British Weights and Measures, Considered from a Practical Standpoint
Senator J. P. Gray,
With the Compliments of the Author.
James W. Evans
WEIGHTS & MEASURES,
CONSIDERED FROM A PRACTICAL STANDPOINT.
A PLEA FOR THEIR RETENTION
IN PREFERENCE TO THE METRIC SYSTEM.
“Be Just, and Fear Not.”
By JAMES W. EVANS,
Metropolitan Inspector of Weights and Measures,
Sydney, New South Wales
F. W. WHITE, PRINTER AND PUBLISHER, 344 KENT STREET.
THE object of this work is to throw some light upon a little understood and unappreciated question, and to convey a warning to the people not to lightly sanction a change which would have far-reaching effects in ways not anticipated by them. Some months since, the Secretary of State for the Colonies invited expressions of opinion from the various Governments in this quarter of the world as to the advisableness or otherwise of introducing the metric system, but, I understand, the general answer was to the effect that in future the matter would not be dealt with by the States separately, as it now devolves upon the Federal authorities to decide the question.
In the preparation of this treatise, the researches of others have been freely drawn upon. It often happens that the standard works upon metrology, while Of great value to students of the subject, are difﬁcult to procure, and bristle with technical arguments, which are not attractive to the general reader. In this instance, the aim has been to present a survey of some of the most salient features of a long-continued and vexed controversy, in terms which will appeal to the ready comprehension of those who care to read.
I have just completed twenty years of service in my present ofﬁce, and it therefore gives me especial gratiﬁcation in undertaking the duty of publishing this work at the present juncture.
Sydney, February, 1904.
IT is somewhat singular that after the whole of this work was in type, two messages, having a direct bearing upon the subject discussed, should have reached us by medium of the cable. The ﬁrst was that the House of Lords had passed the second reading of a Bill to make the use of the metric system compulsory within two years. The second stated that a Blue Book, issued by the Home Government, “shows that the majority of the Colonies favour the metric system of weights and measures.”
It may be safely assumed that the House of Lords is little in sympathy with those engaged in retail buying and selling. The ranks of hereditary legislators are sometimes recruited from among successful and opulent manufacturers who have dealings abroad, who are unconcerned as to the many and the serious inconveniences which in the following pages I have attempted to show would necessarily fall upon domestic traders, as a consequence of the suggested change. Such of the peerage as have no connection with trading interests cannot Well be considered competent judges. As a body they are not in touch with the requirements or needs of the people, and do not constitute a tribunal of last resort upon such matters which can be leaned upon with conﬁdence. The decision of the House of Lords is not likely to be endorsed by the representative House of Commons, which, as pointed out, hereafter, has never yet been induced to sanction the introduction of a system not asked for, and certainly not wanted by the people.
As to the second message there is this to be said: No hint is given as to the preponderance of opinion in the "self-governing" colonies. Great Britain possesses a number of dependencies still under the sole control of Crown appointees; and so far as the information given goes, the voice of some ofﬁcial in an out-of-the-way possession may have been considered as equal in value to the deliberate reply of a Cabinet responsible to a representative legislature. There have been no outward and visible signs that in any of the Colonies efforts have been made to obtain the true views of the trading communities. In fact, it may be regarded as tolerably certain that many of the reports furnished have been framed by ofﬁcers imperfectly acquainted with the subject. The late Chief Justice Higinbotham, of Victoria, when in the political arena, objected that much of Colonial Ofﬁce policy was the work "a clerk called Rogers." Possibly many the answers given to the Colonial Office Circular have been written by "clerks called Rogers," and are altogether valueless as expressions of public opinion.
These, and other signs of the times, indicate that there is an increase of the danger against which I have endeavoured to warn those who consider what I have written, and, I may add, ﬁnally, that in the fulfilment of what I consider a public duty, I have determined to send a copy of this treatise to every member of the Federal Legislature, before which body, in the fulness of time, this most important question will come up for decision.
—An Unfamiliar Subject of Wide Importance
—Origin and Spread of the Metric System
—Facility in Calculations Compared
—Metrical Units Unnatural
—Inconvenience of the Metric Unit
—The Binary Scale a Natural One
—Natural Opposition to Change
—Some who Seek Alteration
—Some who Home Traders not Considered
—All Surveys and Land Titles Entangled
—Great Expenditure Involved
—Superiority of Our Present System
—A Practical Question
Herbert Spencer's Will
WEIGHTS & MEASURES.
An Unfamiliar Subject, but of Wide Importance.
OCCASIONALLY one meets in the press some more or less vague reference to the suggested decimalisation of our coinage, and metricalisation of our weights and measures. These two matters are, more often than not, improperly associated, as if the determination of one hinged upon the other, and should be jointly considered. It is really not so. The problem of altering the basis and incidence of our metallic currency may be dealt with, without touching the more important of the two questions.
There are few who have any adequate grasp of the momentous issues involved in determining upon what foundation our system of weights and measures should rest. Much has been written upon the subject. To the great bulk of the people it might as well never have been penned—they know nothing, or practically nothing, of it, and the little information which has reached them has often been of a misleading or negative character.
Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Select Committees have taken evidence, deliberated, and reported; scientists have voiced their views; commercial men have stated their opinions; and the ever present fussy faddist obtrudes himself upon the field. But, to most people, the evidence given, the arguments advanced, theories propounded, and conclusions arrived at, are all as sealed books. This, after all, is not to be wondered at—it is only natural. Metrology (or the science of weights and measures) attracts but few. The literature devoted to it is not captivating. It has with force been said that "books on the subject are few, and frequently have the defects of being unnecessarily and repulsively dry, as well as highly inaccurate and incorrect."
Commerce between nations is undoubtedly impeded by the existence of conﬂicting systems of weights and measures. Obviously uniformity would be desirable. The same might (to a far greater extent) be said of language, and of many other things.
There are some who clamour for change, if only for the sake of novelty. Others are indolent, and care little what happens so long as they themselves are not seriously inconvenienced or disturbed in their business relations. Again, there are some who wish to push to the furthest extremity the latest hobby they have adopted; and still others who hope for proﬁt even from a revolution. To the latter belongs the promotion of much of the agitation to combat which this treatise has been compiled.
The Commonwealth House of Representatives has adopted a resolution favourable to the adoption of decimal coinage, and the metric system of weights and measures —though the two do not harmonise—but the decision has been wisely safeguarded with the declaration that any change in these respects must be preceded by action on the part of the mother country. In New Zealand the Government has been empowered to establish, on and after January 1, 1906, the metric system of weights and measures, by promulgation of an Order-in-Council. In the ﬁrst instance alluded to, no very harmful step has been taken; and in the second, it is scarcely within the range of possibility that a system will be set up which would be in antagonism to that prevailing elsewhere in the Empire, and the power will doubtless remain dormant.
It would be purposeless to review the many futile attempts which have been made in the United Kingdom to obtain legislative sanction to the compulsory introduction of the metric system of weights and measures. In the mother land there were many things which required redress, such as the multiplicity of provincial and other customary weights and measures (existing really in deﬁance of the law), with which we in Australia have never been familiar. Those serious blots upon an otherwise admirable system were no doubt provocative of vexations, and had some effect in creating a desire for another system. Some thought they had a better one ready made to their hands in that adopted by France and other European countries. Still, in spite of agitations and recommendations, the Imperial Parliament has not yet been induced to legalise the introduction of a new order of things, the effects of which would be carried into every home.
It is no part of my purpose to argue that whatever is must be right—that because a system exists, and has long existed, it is too sacred to touch. But it would be equally stupid not to point out the dangers attendant upon a change which is asked for by no inconsiderable or no inconsequential body of people, well-meaning in many cases, but not always so well versed in the real question as they claim to be.
In the gathered volumes of evidence and research upon this topic, are to be found totally contradictory opinions of men of science, manufacturers, engineers, and those who are in any way concerned in calculations for trade or other purposes. But it must be borne in mind that the advocates of change have been the promoters of inquiring Commissions, and have been careful to always put forward only witnesses in sympathy with their views. These have always been found in abundance. On the other side there has mainly been indifference, and certainly no organisation.
This is not intended as a scientiﬁc treatise, nor as an historical account of the circumstances under which the metric system came into vogue, but a slight reference to both points may help in the understanding of the issues involved. For those who wish to penetrate deeper, there is a mass of literature to be consulted, not, as has been pointed out, always accurate in its nature.
Origin and Spread of the Metric System.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century events moved rapidly in France. Internal affairs were in a chaotic state—among them weights and measures. There was a multiplicity of systems, conﬂicting in fundamental units, and it was really a case of "confusion worse confounded." In neighboring States the conditions in this respect were no better, but our Gallic friends were then bent on "making history." This was one of the matters taken in hand, and in no part of the world was reform more needed. It was decided to found a new system. A committee of savants took as a base what was at one time imagined to be the ten-millionth part of the meridian quadrant passing through Paris, as deduced from French geodetic measurements made in 1740. This supposed quarter circumference of the globe was divided into one hundred parts, which were each divided into one hundred kilometres, and the kilometres were cut up into one thousand sections, called metres. This became the pivotal point upon which the whole system turns, and gave it the name by which it has become known.
Though long and loudly acclaimed as the perfection of human wisdom, keen authorities upon the question have over and over again exposed the hollowness of any such pretension. For instance, Sir John Herschel took serious objection to the adoption, as a base, of the quarter circumference of the sphere in preference to its axis of revolution, which he considered "a blemish on the very face of the system, a sin against geometric simplicity." Seiss ﬂatly says "it is unscientiﬁc, notwithstanding its great pretensions to science," and points out "it is founded on a curved line instead of a straight one—follows a circumference for a measure of length instead of an axis or diameter," while, further, "it is inaccurate and untrue, as now admitted, by 1 too little in every 5300 parts."
Similar adverse scientiﬁc criticisms might be quoted. Still, as stated previously, the present object is not to plunge into this aspect of the question, and it would not have been referred to but as a means to clearing away one of the many fallacies which has grown up and been fostered in regard to it—that the metric system is the perfection of scientiﬁc accuracy, and as such entitled to veneration in the highest degree. The fact that a local writer, Mr. Thomas Ranken, of Lismore, Richmond River, has in a thoughtful work given able attention to this portion of the subject, all the more disinclines me to discuss it, but I cannot refrain from paying him the compliment of making the following extract from his essay, "Measure for Measure," which fairly crystallises what might be said in this connection. He points out: "Notwithstanding all the fuss that has been made over this system as a scientiﬁc system, which all the world should follow, the fact of the matter is that it is thoroughly unscientiﬁc, unmathematical in its basis; and its unit, the metre, or measure, except for its being [assumed] 1/10000000th part of the quarter circumference of the earth, is a measure of nothing."
The French adopted this system in 1793, when the Revolution was in full swing. Then the conquering legions of that country carried it with them into Belgium and other neighboring States. In its home the system had an uncertain existence for many years, but by the end of the nineteenth century it received adoption in all the countries of Europe except the United Kingdom and Russia. If "the course of true love never did run smoothly," it is also true that the introduction of this system into various Principalities, Kingdoms, and Empires was not unattended with difﬁculties; and, hereafter, more particular attention will be paid to the troubles which arose.
Facility in Calculations Compared.
One question which soon presents itself to the mind of the inquirer is, "which system will prove the most convenient in our daily calculations?" To be in a position to return a conﬁdent answer is one not so easily reached as is often assumed. Those who favour the metric system lay great stress upon its simplicity. Admittedly it has much to recommend it in that respect, and the enthusiasm of its supporters ensures that point not being allowed to escape notice. Still, those who contrast the British system with the supposed newer one, may not always be aware of the mass of independent, solid, well-fortiﬁed opinions in favour of our own.
Mr. C, F. Howard, an eminent arithmetician, declared before a House of Commons Committee that after studying the whole question for a quarter of a century, during three-ﬁfths of which period he had a preference for the metric system, he had come to the conclusion that "the British system is immeasurably superior in every respect. Any calculation which can be made by the French metric system, we can make with equal ease by the British system, and hundreds of calculations can be made much more easily by the British system than by the metric system itself." To adopt the latter would be, he termed it, "not only a national, but a worldwide calamity."
Sir F. Bramwell, Bart, F.R.S., the famous engineer, speaking of his experience in Egypt, in the service of the Khedive, where he worked alongside French engineers, said he "was struck with the want of facility with which their calculations were done."
Turning to quite another ﬁeld of operations, we hear much about the convenience of the metric system in scientiﬁc calculations. That this system is largely, almost exclusively, used by scientists must be admitted. Some, it is true, simply follow in the footsteps of others; some, merely to give a tone of science to their books. It has also been pointed out that until within the last forty years or so the bulk of the scientiﬁc teaching was done on the continent, that many of the best professors got their knowledge there, and that they were brought up in the metric system, and have kept to it. Now, a distinguished chemist, Dr. Hurter, chief of the United Alkali Company's immense laboratories, familiar with both methods, and at that very moment using the metric system against his inclinations, wrote, that for analytical purposes—“I have no hesitation whatever in saying that there is no beneﬁt in the metric unit of weights and measures; for analytical purposes the grain is in every way a superior unit. In many operations the decimal system is of enormous advantage, but it is not universally so. I hold that the addition of the identical weights of casks written in two ways, once as kilogrammes, and once as cwts. qrs. lbs., will be made in a shorter time by anyone in the English system. I have made the experiment some years ago with our clerks, and they all used more time in adding up the kilo columns, and all declared it was stiffer mental work."
The virtues of ease and speed in calculations claimed for the metric system is, after all, the common property of all decimal systems, of which the metric is but one. In "Modern Metrology," a veritable storehouse of information, gathered from the four quarters of the earth, the author, Mr. L. D’A. Jackson, points out "The advantages of rapidity of calculation accompanying any decimal system are very great, and the rigidity of the ancient decimal systems of Egypt and China has been scrupulously imitated by the French in their metric system. It can be applied to any unit equally well, provided that there is an indifference as to whether the dependent units of the system are convenient or inconvenient for commercial purposes in weighing and measuring. It must, however, be noticed that the convenience is solely due to accordance with numerical notation as regards decimality." He goes on to say that though decimalisation may be easily applied to any arbitrary unit, "the fact remains that the French and the Chinese and Japanese systems are the only ones in which it is actually carried out and fully applied at the present day."
Suppose the metric system be adopted. Obviously at once confusion would arise in every counting house, every shop, every place concerned in trade. It would not be easy to throw off old and familiar methods. It has been sensibly pointed out that "people in trade, away from school a few years, get wedded to their habits, and their minds are accustomed to other calculations, fractional parts of the integer, reckoning half pence and pence in the pound, and they would kick against the change, because they would have to turn themselves inside out, and get rid of all they had known before and take up a new system."
Imagine in a mercantile ofﬁce a skilled accountant working by the present mode, having sent to him as an assistant one who knew nothing but the metric system, To say that each should have to learn both methods, scarcely forms a recommendation, nor furnishes an argument in support of the Contention that the change would be a simple operation.
Metrical Units Unnatural.
Preceding the Revolution in France, there occurred a political change in the relations of the Anglo-Saxon race destined to have a world—wide effect. Discontent was succeeded by an appeal to arms, which ended in the establishment of the great republic of the United States of America. Then, and for a long time after, there existed bad feeling on both sides. The Americans, starting out on a great career for themselves, sought to disentangle themselves from all old-world nations. Still, they had carried with them across the Atlantic, the English language, English laws, English customs and weights and measures.
The severance of political ties with the mother country resulted in many internal commercial changes. There came the decimalisation of the coinage. Then was entrusted to a Committee the task of investigating the various systems of weights and measures in existence, with a View to the acceptance of the best. This resulted in what has been termed "the most glowing eulogy of the British system ever written."
The report of the Committee, presented in 1821 to Congress, was penned by John Quincey Adams, then, and for all time, one of the foremost men in the history of the congeries of States forming the mighty confederation of the Western Hemisphere. The year in which Adams wrote was, in point of time, very close to events which had an inﬂuence in increasing the feeling of Americans against all things British—the incidents of the war of 1812-15. However, the fury of the storm left no cloud upon the keen intellect of Adams when he set himself the task of dispassionately examining the merits of rival systems. It is said that he approached the proposal to adopt the metric system with an enthusiastic desire for a common system of weights and measures for all nations. Analysing the question, and his words have not since been improved upon, he said—"The French metrology, in the ardent and exclusive search for an universal standard from nature, seems to have viewed the subject too much with reference to the nature of things, and not enough to the nature of man. Its authors do not appear to have considered the proportions dictated by nature between the physical organisation of man and the unit of his weights and measures. The standard taken from the admeasurement of the earth, has no reference to the admeasurement and power of the human body. The metre is a length of 40 inches nearly, and by applying to it exclusively the principle of decimal division, no measure corresponding to the ancient foot was provided. A unit of that denomination, though with slightly varied differences of length, was in universal use among all civilised nations, and the type of it is found in the dimensions of the human body. Perhaps for half of the occasions which arise in the life of every individual for a linear measure, the instrument to suit his purpose must be portable,- and ﬁt to be carried in his pocket. Neither the metre, the half-metre, nor the decimetre are suited to that purpose. The half—metre corresponds, indeed, with the ancient cubit, but perhaps one of the causes which have everywhere, since the time of the Greeks, substituted the foot in place of the cubit, has been the superior convenience of the shorter measure. Besides which, the cubit being the unit, the half cubit might serve the purpose of the foot; but the metre, divisible only by two and ten, gave no measure practically corresponding to the foot whatever. It appears to have been considered that decimal arithmetic, although affording great facilities for the computation of numbers, is not equally well suited for the division of material substances. A glance of the eye is sufﬁcient to divide material substances into successive halves, fourths, eighths, and sixteenths. A slight attention will give thirds, sixths, and twelfths. But divisions into ﬁfth and tenth parts are amongst the most difﬁcult that can be performed without the aid of calculation." "To the common mass of the people the use of weights is in the market and the shops. The article weighed is to be carried home for the daily subsistence of the family. Subdivisions of the pound, the half, the quarter of a pound, are often necessary to conciliate the wants and the means of the neediest pertion of the people, that portion to whom. the justice of weight and measure is a necessity of life, and to whom it is one of the most sacred duties of the legislator to secure that justice, so far as it can be secured by the operation of human institutions. The transition state in France caused fraud on the scanty pittance of the poor. Small dealers in groceries and liquors gave the people ⅕ klo. for ½ lb., and ⅕ of a litre for the ½ setier. The decimal division became snares to the honesty of the seller, and cheats upon the wants of the buyer."
Inconvenience of the Metric Unit.
Adams, starting off with a leaning to the metric system, found himself face to face with the inescapable conclusion that the British system was the best. His clear vision penetrated the ﬂimsy pretensions of the supposedly new, but really primitive, system of metrology. What he wrote in 1821 is as applicable now as then to the merits of the question under notice. Later writers have taken much the same ground—in some instances indeed they give but echoes of Adams's views; in others, extended research has added to their weight.
It must be remembered that the principles of our system have descended to us through long centuries—in our earliest traditions they are mentioned, and in the first British Acts of Parliament they are spoken of. Impurities crept in, and were a source of trouble so long back as the time when Magna Charta was assented to, for therein it was enacted there should be but "one weight and one measure" throughout the realm. It is curious to note that there then existed, as many centuries after, a strong demand for uniformity. Local customs proved too strong to sweep away, and it is only in comparatively recent times that many confusing provincialisms have been abolished, and some yet exist. Still the system as a system has always maintained its cardinal features. The adoption of its principles is with us as a people instinctive, and not easily to be eradicated.
As we have seen, Adams takes strong exception to the fundamental unit of the metric system, as inconvenient for every day use. Professor A. De Morgan, of London University College, in expressing somewhat similar thoughts, said: "I take an exception to the metre. It arose from a mere fanciful connection with the quarter of the meridian, which I think of no practical importance to any man alive. . . . The metre is, of course, too long to be the common measure. In decimal division the next thing would be the decimetre, which would be too short to take the place of the foot. The same thing applies very much to the other measures, nor can I conceive the reason for urging the subdivision of the centimetre as opposed to the subdivision of one inch."
Seiss declared the metric system to be utterly meaningless, and inharmonious with nature, as well in its unit as in its fractions and multiplications; that it was inherently inconvenient. He says the unit of length is unstridable and incapable of any natural measurement. Sir John Herschell stigmatised it as "the worst measure in the world," and Becket Denison said "it was an inconvenient, inaccurate, and unstridable measure."
Herbert Spencer, in a series of articles published in the London Times in 1896, claimed that the fundamental principle of the metric system is essentially imperfect, and its faults great and incurable. He also added: "Professedly aiming to introduce uniformity of method, the metric system cannot be brought into harmony with certain unalterable divisions of space, nor with certain natural divisions of time; nor with the artiﬁcial divisions of time which all civilised men have adopted. As 10 is divisible only by 5 and 2 (of which the resulting ﬁfth is useless), its divisibility is of the smallest, and having only a makeshift fourth and no exact third, it will not lend itself to that division into aliquot parts so needful for the purposes of daily life."
Jackson thus states his opinion: "For any country possessing a good single natural system of weights and measures, it [the metric] is a snare and a delusion, that much resembles the soufflèe, the fondant, the champagne—mousseux. the crinoline, and other French inventions of puerile type. As a universal commercial system it is deﬁcient, from the fact of its being decimal, for most commercial nations and races are essentially binary in habit and form of thought."
It would be superﬂuous to add to the criticisms passed upon the evident unsuitableness of the metre as a unit. The quotations given are fairly representative of what has been written upon that point, but the concluding words in the extract given from Jackson's work leads to the consideration of another feature of the question.
The Binary Scale a Natural One.
It is incontrovertible that in dealing with the division of material substances, the binary scale comes into mental and practical play as easy and convenient. Not all the specious pleas of those who advocate the so-called reform can turn us from it. Its advantages over the decimal system in all the operations of, every day life are apparent. Yet it will be convenient at this juncture to put in evidence some interesting records upon this phase of the matter.
In the second report of the Standards Commission, presented to the House of Commons in 1869, it is stated:—"The natural inclination of the mind to half and quarter continually exhibits itself in the sub-division of almost every base. The metric system does not afford the same facility, either for change of the adopted base, or for the continued binary sub-division, and any attempt to force it into use in shops and workmen's operations, would probably be felt as a needless grievance."
Mr. C. F. Howard has asserted his conviction that more than half of the people who are born into the world, and live to manhood, are quite unable to understand the decimals. "Take the sixteenths" (he says), "a child knows that an ounce is the sixteenth part of a pound, but it takes a highly trained intellect to realise that .0625 is the decimal of it."
The late Sir Geo. B. Airy, Astronomer Royal, speaking from a long and unique experience, which gives great weight to his opinion, was unhesitating in his protestations against the suggested change, and used no uncertain tones when he said: "If I had a new nation to create, with a new system of weights and measures, I would give them the binary scale throughout. That I conceive would be nearest to perfection—the binary scale, with means to enable us to use decimal multiples or sub—multiples" He also stated: "For daily life, people understand sub-division by halves better than any other sub-division," and "the law is universal that a binary sub-division is easier than anything else."
Professor De Morgan claimed that "Binary sub-division must always be used by the common people so far as halves and quarters are concerned;" and another authority, Mr. A. Franklin, himself a professional auditor and accountant, states that binary subdivisions are "the most natural and most convenient."
Jackson, in his "Modern Metrology," thoughtfully writes:—"Measures sub-divided on a binary scale possess considerable convenience in actual weighing and measuring (which is the main object of commercial measures), as a half of any weight or measure throughout the series can always be conveniently arrived at, an advantage conceded neither by decimal subdivision, nor, strictly, even by duo-decimal subdivision, but only arrived at by the device of treating the term 1½, an improper fraction, as a special digit. . . . A binary subdivision is a far more civilised arrangement for commercial purposes, and seems to have been adopted both by the commercial and by the more intellectual nations; the Romans for commercial purposes, the Hindus, the Germanic, and Teutonic races; while decimalisation was favoured by primitive races only for commercial purposes, though even now well adapted to the scientiﬁc purposes and calculations of advanced races." This principle was, no doubt, suggested to their uneducated minds by the possession of so many ﬁngers.
One of the many sophistries which seems fated to accompany the advocacy of our perversion from a superior to an inferior system, is that little difﬁculty has attended the change in foreign countries. It is asserted, unnecessarily, for the truth of it is obvious, that what others have succeeded in doing we can accomplish. Some important considerations are not stated by advocates of the metric system. We stand, and always have stood, in a different position to other countries.
The Anglo-Saxon system, in spite of excrescences which in more primitive times fastened upon it and caused inconvenience, is admittedly a sound one. Other European countries did not have such an advantageous possession. Within their own borders they were at "sixes and sevens." What was right in one province was wrong in another; what was a standard in one city was unrecognised by its neighbour. The large varieties of measures in use—whether in France, in Italy, in the Netherlands, in the German Empire, rendered any new single system, however inferior, a boon, and the confusion of affairs afforded great facilities for the establishment of any system which brought with it the blessing of uniformity.
France ﬁrst tried the metric system in 1793. Political turmoil, internecine struggles, and foreign warfare, interfered with its chances of successful progress for
years, but after making due allowance for all this, the
awkward fact remains that nearly half a century elapsed before it became ﬁrmly established. The stage of tran- sition was marked with much friction, to the accompani- ment of petty frauds (such as those alluded to by Adams),
and harsh ofﬁcial compulsion.
The system was ﬁrst imposed on Belgium in 1795, and obtained full force in 1816, and its friends admit there were great difﬁculties in securing its adoption by the people. So late as I862 M. Auguste Visschers, a distinguished Belgian ofﬁcial and an ardent admirer of metricalisation, admitted that the old customs had not altogether died away, and that resistance to the new order of things continued to lead to prosecutions and
That this should be the experience of a country situated on the borders of France, akin to it in speech and associations, and having great intercourse there‘ with, is not a recommendation which encourages us to
enter upon a sea of troubles with no adequate reward.
In Austria-Hungary, we read, the Government ap-
pointed a strong adjusting Commission, “which was armed at all points, and had ofﬁcers all over the
Backed by the strong arm of forces always at the command of central authorities, 'and used in a fashion to which we as a people are not accustomed, the metric system has been forced upon most of the European countries by bureaucracies, and, as has been pointed out, “ no people has ever been asked for its assent ; even “the French did not adopt it (so far as they have adopted “it) until they were compelled” But, after all, they made good bargains—order replaced chaos. Any one system must be better than a host of conﬂicting ones. Still, regiments of ofﬁcials controlling peoples accus-
tomed to being dragooned in yielding to the decrees of
‘ authority, could not change the habits of the people as
if by magic. There was long and passive resistance, and old customs could not be extinguished speedily. Even in France to—day, in the silk and lace trades, old measures are in use, in spite of penalties; in Paris persons still talk of 072665 of tobacco, and acres (anaemic) of land; Herbert Spencer says: “One might have “thought that, after three generations, daily use of [the
“ new system would have entailed entire disappearance
- “ of the old, had it been in all respects better,” but he
shows there is not conformity, as the people can still
talk in sous, and ask for fourths, and they do so. Further- more, binary divisions of the metric system have been found necessary by the people, and are widely coming into use, a remarkable illustration of the insufﬁciency of the legal standards for the uses of the people. Though
the “voiceless multitude” who suffered most are not
represented when Select Committees meet, a knowledge
of the troubles caused by. all such changes does come to
light in various emphatic ways.
' '“"“ ' ‘1‘”4‘ Starting with every advantage in its favour, as has been pointed out, the metric system has notbeen adopted so readily and with such smoothness of working as the advocates of its “simplicity” would have us believe.
We are in a different position to that which those other countries, held up to us as patterns, were in before the adoption of the metric system, as we
happen to have an excellent system which the people have no difﬁculty in dealing with. And Professor De
Morgan emphasises, in a few words, a paramount
objection in “the greatness of the change and the com- parative inutility of it.”
National Opposition to Change.
It has been well said that “ amongst almost all nations an adherence to the customary measures of the people
is generally a deep-rooted sentiment, much akin to con- formity to habitual forms of religious ceremony, old political institutions, and ancient modes of linguistic
expression.” Britishers are specially noted for their tenac1ty, and it requires no prophet to foretell that they would offer enormous resistance to any attempt to change their habits and customs in any respect. They have been cradled in a different political atmosphere to the people of most European countries. There would be well-nigh insuperable difﬁculties in obtaining obedi— ence to any order to change, root and branch, our system of weights and measures, particularly when they know it is
a good commercial system, and well suited to their require- ments. Dispassionate observers have not been slow to point out that the troubles encountered in effecting changes on the Continent of Europe would be greatly multiplied in the mother country. In the report of the Standards Com- mission, presented to the House of Commons, there is this reference to the point referred to :—-“ It is obvious that in “this country, where the people are more accustomed to “self-government than in other European countries, the
“Executive has far less power of compelling obedience to “the law in all the small transactions of trade against the
“ will of the people.”
I A former President of the Board of Trade, the Right Hon. J. W. Henley, M.P., when asked his opinion on one occa-
sion, declared there would be a vast amount of resistance to any change, and added :—“ This is a free country, and the
“ great mass of the people have the power of making them- “selves heard, and heard most effectually; and if they “thought this was going to be a great inconvenience, I “suspect we should feel it in the House in a kind of way “ likely to prevent any measure being successful. To intro- “duce the new system would simply be a convenience to
“persons who are well able to meet the inconvenience that “there may be in the calculations of goods on a different
Mr. J. A. Franklin has ﬂatly stated it as his opinionthat it would be impossible to displace our present system, because there would be such an amount of public opposi-
‘ '1" Ema tion 3 people “would think it an interference with existing
“modes of computation, without corresponding advantage;
“they would regard it as capricious; they would not see the “advantage of it.” He went on to say that, judging from the experience of foreign countries, the amount of resistance in the United Kingdom “would be insuperable; other nations are more accustomed to being dragooned into
changes than we are.”
Professor H. Hennessy, F.R.S., of Dublin, though an advocate of change, assented that usage was more powerful in England than. in other countries, and was careful, despite
his fondness for the metric system, to urge caution in bring- ing any alteration about, for he said—“ The comparative “independence of thelr government with which the people “of England generally act, would render it desirable to have “the system introduced in as persuasive a form as possible “at ﬁrst.” '
Sir G. B. Airy recognised the trouble there would be “in buying uniformity at the price of enormous inconvenience,” and said, “the trouble of the change would be so great that people would see no advantage in it at all.” He also declared—~“I do not think you could enforce the change in “ weights and measures. I think the people generally will “go on with halves and quarters, and in that case I say you “cannot do it. They would say at once it was “a thing from which they derived no beneﬁt, and from
“which they would sustain a good deal of inconvenience.”
Seiss, in strong terms, held that “the adoption of the “French system by us would be practically and profoundly “oppressive. It would cause a century or more of confusion “ and trouble, and disable all our present records and much “ of our literature also, to the after generations requiring “translation into other terms to be understood. Even the “necessary little change from old style to new style in the “calendar still embarrasses at times, though made so long “ago. This change of metres would necessarily touch all “our charts, surveys, land records, dispensatories, prescrip- “tion books, formulas of arts and manufactories, entailing “upon the people expenditure, losses, and inconvenience “beyond estimate for generations together.”
So late as 1899 Herbert Spencer declared : “ My opinion “is that, should the attempt ever be made to force it [the “metric system] on the English people, not as submissive “asthe Continentals, the resistance will be so determined “that the attempt will have to be abandoned.’
Curiously enough we have on record some instances of the difﬁculty in dealing with old forms of measures, which should serve as forceful examples of the vast amount of trouble in store for us should any alteration to the metric system be unhappily sanctioned. In 1835 it was made illegal to sell ﬁsh by the “ cran ’7 in Scotland, where it was in use. Those who take their spoil from the sea proved stubborn, and in 1889 the use of the “ cran ” as a measure was re—legalised. Again, the ell was practically made illegal in 1601, when a new yard measure was constructed by a Commission appointed by Queen Elizabeth. It remained in general use, however, till 1824, when it was again declared illegal, and in 1835 a very stringent laW had to be adopted to prevent its use. Moreover the carat, an ancient Arabic weight, used in the weighing of diamonds and other precious stones, has never been legalised, yet no attempt is likely to be made to prohibit its use. Thus, in three diverse ways we have striking indications of the fact that the task of supplanting our present weights and measures with an inferior system is not likely to prove so easy as some people would have us believe.
The adoption of the metric scheme would not alone turn topsy turvy all our methods of weighing and measuring, and compel craftsmen and workmen, sellers and buyers, to abandon familiar bases of reckoning, but they would have to do it to the accompaniment of unfamiliar terms—of “ kilos” and “litres” and “grammes,” carrying sometimes Greek, and sometimes Latin, preﬁxes. A strange system and a strange nomenclature would cause great worry, distraction and annoyance.
This question of language is not the least important among the varied aspects of the matter which must be taken into consideration. In the intercourse between civilised nations, the English tongue is the most widely used of all. For commercial purposes it has no equal in value. No matter What skill in the talking and Writing of other countries may be achieved, people will still think in their mother tongue. A Frenchman will not think in German, or a German in English, but in the language of his country, and afterwards translate those thoughts into the language he wishes to be understood in. With us it comes as a second nature to think in pounds and yards and gallons. We comprehend exactly what those terms represent 3 the use of them conveys to the mind familiar ideas and ﬁxed principles. It does not require any keen foresight to picture the con- fusion that would arise were we to have forced upon us the use of weights and measures, not only having values widely different to those we know, but unfamiliar designations and sub-divisions.
The metric system has- called into employment no less than three languages in its terminology—French, Greek, and Latin. The mixture presented may be readily understand- able by Classical scholars, who have the least use for it, but the masses of the people, who would be closely affected, would be bewildered by its cumbrous, uncouth jargon.
Mr. James Stevenson, M.P., a manufacturer of chemicals for half a century, a few years since warmly protested that “ this question has been argued too much as a trade question, “a buying and selling question. It appears to me that it is “ “a question of the English language. The units of weights “and measures form part of our language, with which we “express in words our mental conception of size and “distance.
Professor De Morgan has recorded his opinion that “the “nomenclature would be found exceedingly inconvenient “and unintelligible. I, do not think,” he said, “you could “ easily drive into the common mind, in England, the idea “of ascending, by Greek words, and descending by Latin “words. The distinction between the decimetre and the “decametre, the millimetre and the chiliametre, would
“scarcely be recognised. There would be con-
druid “siderable, almost unconquerable difﬁculty, in introducing “ into this country the uncouth terms of the French metrical “system,” which, after all, are “not in the spirit of our “ language.”
The further one goes into the question, the clearer does it become, that the operation of upsetting the present system and replacing it with another, would not prove so easy as
some individuals strive to make it appear. It may suit them to minimise the troubles which would be created, but
that there is more than one lion in the path is very evident.
Some who Seek Alteration.
Prominent among those who want the British system abolished in favour of that generally in vogue elsewhere in Europe are—(I) Certain scientists, and (2) certain manu- facturers of goods who export abroad. The former, inﬂuenced by early associations, already use the metric system in their writings and calculations, a few, perhaps, from mere pedantry, others for convenience in interchange of ideas. Unversed in the details of trading requirements, immersed in their studies, exclusive in pursuits and forming a world unto themselves, they cannot be accepted as safe guides on such questions as the conduct of business. They have their way in regard to their own immediate requirements, and should be content. No one attempts to interfere with them in any system of
reckoning they elect to adopt. As to the exporters, their reasonable requirements are also
met. Beeton’s Law Book (fourth edition) succinctly sets out how matters now stand in the mother country. It states :— i “No purchaser is bound to accept goods by weight or “measure other than those of the Imperial standard, but “bargains entered into upon the basis of the weights or “measures of the metric system are valid, according to a “ﬁxed scale of equivalent Imperial weights and measures.
“. . . . Goods for delivery in a foreign country, or “ imported from thence, may be made up, sold, or bought “(so far as the export or import between the two countries “is concerned) by any standard of weight or measure, at the “option of the parties.” With this, however, they are not satisﬁed. Few in numbers compared with the sum total of all those engaged in trade, they seek to attach to themselves an advantage which could only be conceded at the expense and convenience of the many.
Those who have read much upon the question cannot but have been struck by the herculean efforts of the Decimal Association to obtain from British consuls in various countries expressions of opinion that the interests of British trade abroad would be beneﬁted by the adoption of the metric system. The device, after all, was somewhat puerile. It is easy to imagine the British Consul, say at Lyons or Bordeaux, asking a trader doing business with England whether he thought it would be expedient for us to adopt the metric scheme. Of course the local man would reply that it would be an advantage, a great convenience to have the same system in both countries ; and he might add, “ Oh I cannot understand your measures—they are so difﬁcult.”
All this would be duly reported, and,just as might have been expected, the Decimal Association received in reply to their queries the answers which pleased them best. Some of the reports, however, gave somewhat unlooked for, and no doubt unpalatable, information. They indicate that it is not the absence of the metric system, but the negligence and want of enterprise on the part of many traders which have oper- ated adversely to their interests. They do not always imitate the Germans, French, and Austrians in translating their
trade circulars 3 nor take anything like the same trouble in approaching foreign clients with carefully prepared trade lists which will be intelligible—in fact, frequently exhibit indisposition to adapt themselves to the language and customs of the countries with which they wish to trade. Other manufacturers, on the other hand, spare themselves no trouble in this respect, and the latter will succeed, while the careless traders wail and blame our system for what has been caused by their own indolence. Herbert Spencer has tritely remarked that if merchants “are too idle, or too “ unenterprising to take the trouble needful for conveniencing “their foreign customers, and if, consequently, they lose “ business, and are in danger of going to the wall, then the “comment is—Let them go to the wall. We shall not “beneﬁt by an increasing population of incapables.” It has also been rightly pointed out that foreign commerce is carried on, generally speaking, by comparatively highly educated people, who are generally better able to arrange such differences as there may be, than the humble people who deal from one part of the country to the other, and who cannot so well understand those differences with the latter. The struggle for existence is already sufﬁciently severe, without adding the complications a change would
The situation has been well expressed by Herbert Spencer in these words :—“The vast majority of our population “consists of working people, people of narrow incomes, and “the minor shopkeepers who minister to their wants. And “these wants daily lead to myriads of purchases of small “quantities for small sums, involving fractional divisions of "measures and money—measuring transactions probably “ﬁfty times as numerous as those of the men of science and “the wholesale traders put together. These two small “classes, however, unfamiliar with retail buying and selling, “have decided that they will be better carried on by the “metric system than by the existing system. Those who “have no experimental knowledge of the matter propose to “regulate those who have! The methods followed by the
“ experienced are to be re-arranged by the inexperienced 1”
Home Traders' Interests not Considered.
Professor De Morgan, while assenting to the proposition that a change to the metric system might prove of beneﬁt to foreign commerce, believed that it would create such an immense “amount of confusion thronghout the country that “the inconvenience would far more than counterbalance the “advantages we should derive in our foreign commercial “relations.” The home trade of all countries is of far greater volume, and consequently of more importance, than the trafﬁc carried across their borders. The export trade, enormous as it may be, is small in comparison with theturn-
over within our own territorial limits. Domestic needs have
ﬁrst to be supplied, and it is one of the blots upon the fair- ness of Commissions which have been chosen to enquire into this subject, that there has been careful abstention from calling as witnesses representatives of the purely home trade, whose interests are vitally affected. It has been pointed out previously that this may be in large part due to the fact that while advocates of change have their Associations, and can thus, upon any demand, push forward any number of witnesses in favour of their views, on the other side there is no organisation of any kind. But just as in proportion to their seeming slothfulness on this matter, terrible would be the wrath of the people if, by any mischance, they were forced into revolutionising their old-time methods. Fortu- nately our legislators, knowing the temper of their country- men, have not proVed so neglectful of national interests as to give practical effect to the recommendations of so-called reformers, and are not likely in future to yield to a demand which is clamoured for by only a few, and is unsupported by those who would be most affected. The literature of Select Committees, with witnesses of one class before them, is rich with references to export trade and scientiﬁc computations, but is silent in estimating what disabilities would be inﬂicted upon the home traders by such a sweeping and uncalled—for alteration. Commenting on a letter received from an auditor, who said, “I had to go over more than £20,000 of accounts yesterday, and was very thankful that it was not in francs,” Herbert Spencer has pertinently asked, “By whose advice “is it that the metric system of weights, measures, and‘values “is to be adopted P Is it by the advice of those who spend “their lives in weighing and receiving payments for goods? “Is it that the men who alone are concerned in portioning “out commodities of one or other kind to customers, and “who have every minute need for using this or that sub- “division of weights or measures, have demanded to use the “ decimal system? Far from it. I venture to say that in no “ case has the retail trader been consulted.”
If, however, the tens of thousands of retail traders have not been so demonstrative as Decimal Associations, some in touch with them indicate that they do not view the metric scheme with favour. For instance, Mr. A. J. Street, Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures for the City of London, has declared that retailers are very much against a change, and fairly pointed out that the wholesale trade, great as it is “must be multiplied in an enormous ratio to give any idea of the volume of retail trade.”
Mr. Alfred Spencer, chief ofﬁcer of the Public Control Department of the London County Council, when asked for his views, said that the position of affairs in the United Kingdom was different to that in, say Austria and Germany, where the whole public suffered inconvenience from the complicated and conﬂicting systems in vogue. The absence of that enormous inconvenience gave no cause for such demands from 'Britishers ; and, agreeing with Mr. Street, he stated that amongst retail traders there was no evidence that a change was required. Certainly they have never made any demand for it. ‘
When you have a system, you must think it as well as be able to write it. We have got into the habit of thinking in pounds and yards and gallons—by the mention of one or the other a deﬁnite idea is conveyed. Introduce the metric system, and there would be an upheaval—the tailor, the bootmaker, dressmaker, butcher, baker, anyone and every- one engaged in trade; everyone who is a buyer, who is a seller, would have to revise not only his arithmetic but his appliances. To give one homely illustration, amongst many which might be cited, Mr. A. Spencer points out: “In the case “of milk and beer, these are sold generally in quarts, pints, “and half—pints. Should the metric system be introduced, “the litre, half—litre, and the double decilitre would take “their places, and the purchaser would suffer a loss of a t‘ gill, a half-gill, and a quarter gill respectively. I should “think a reduction in price not likely to follow, as it would “hardly be practicable.” He added that in some cases the change would be a beneﬁt to the small purchaser, and in others it would prove a loss.
‘ The apparent disregard shown to the feelings and opinions of the very people, the home traders, who would be most concerned in any alteration, indicated by the fact that when inquiries have taken place none truly representative of them have been eXamined, was forcefully recognised on one occasion. When the House of Commons Committee which sat in 1895 were framing their report, one member moved the inclusion of the following paragraph :—“ That no “witnesses were called to represent the numerous classes of “the community, wholesale and retail traders and their “customers, whose transactions in daily life would be dis- “ turbed by the abolition of the long—familiar standards, and “those who had expressed no desire for a change.” This was negatived ; none the less, it expresses a concrete truth.
It has been well said that “a commercial system of “measures requires time for perfect development; it must “be suited to the race, and their forms of thought and calcu- “ lation ,' it must also prove its suitability to all trading “purposes through a longer practical employment; and, “ﬁnally, all improvement and systematisation, readjustments “and rejections, should be gradual alterations, aiming at the “perfect development of the original system, without violent “departures, or borrowing extraneous measures from other “nations.” L
The blunder of dislocating home trade for the sake of a few exporters, received attention in an unexpected quarter, and I cannot do better than give the following extract from one of Piazza Smyth’s works :—-“ Having heard rumours “upon rumours perseveringly spread through this country, “to the effect that Russia was on the eve of adopting the “French metrical system, I wrote lately to Mr. Otto Struve “the Imperial Chief Astronomer at Pulkova, near St. Peters— “burg, and received from him the information that some “years ago there had been a little talk about the project, “though it was soon after entirely dropped on ﬁnding ‘that “the proposed change would be to the advantage only of a “few hundreds of merchants, mostly foreigners, but to the damage of seventy millions of Russian subjects.' This,” says Smyth, “is in fact the true way of looking at the question of “any national metrology, for it is a something which refers “to the comforts, conveniences, and most useful employments “of the mass of the nation, and especially of the many and “the poor. Yet, in Great Britain, those who should feel “most directly and immediately concerned, do not seem in “any way sufﬁciently awake to the dangerous crisis which is “passing. The heart, indeed, of the people, we are happy “to believe, is not on the wrong side in these metrological
“matters, it is only apathetic.”
Point by point, as we consider the matter, reason accumu- lates upon reason, why, as it has been well put by one writer, “The Anglo—Saxon race should hesitate long before plunging itself into such a turbulent sea of revolution and folly.”
All Surveys and Land Titles Entangled.
Far-reaching as would be the effect upon all branches of industry caused by the adoption of the metric scheme, the confusion created in other directions would be incalculable. All our charts, surveys and land records would require revision, entailing upon the people monetary outlays and inconveniences beyond conception, and involve us in com- plications which would take generations to straighten out. The slightest consideration of this aspect of the question will open up a view of unending possibilities in the way of the creation of difﬁculties. The man who holds title deeds to so many feet frontage in a busy street, or to so many acres of land in the country districts, will naturally protest against having to pay for the re-drawing of his plans, embellished with terms which are unfamiliar and not under- standable. In England, for example, immense loss would be occasioned by rendering unintelligible all the maps of the Ordnance Survey, which has been going on for over a hundred years, all of which are scaled to miles, of so many feet or inches to the mile. The Russian foot is identical with the English foot, and thus it happens that that unit is the most widespread linear measure of the whole world. For this we are offered something inconvenient, and inapplicable to all our conditions. Mr. Ranken, in his interesting essay previously mentioned, thus alludes to this feature of the case: "It would mean the stultifying of all our deeds and land records, and the revision of deeds, re-casting of areas, and very probably re-measurement of property would involve the public in enormous expense. The professional men who advocate the metric system quite forsee this—that it will make work. In fact, in the journal of a scientiﬁc institute in Sydney, that was one of the most potent and convincing arguments in favour of its adoption. But why should we disturb a scientiﬁc, and, from a British point of view, an almost universal, area in favour of a clumsy, unscientiﬁc French measure. There is probably more land surfaces measured, deeded, bought, and sold in terms of the acre than of any other unit."
Private landed interests would not be the only ones touched. In the various divisions of Australasia have grown up huge Crown Lands Departments, which come into personal touch with purchasers of land. As vendors of real estate, immense sums have been expended by them on various classes of surveys, and other similar work. Then there are charts of our coasts, maps of our roads and railway lines, and records of various kinds, all of which would have to be computed to new scales. If in the domain of private interests only, the alteration WOuld cause disquietude, wide- spread annoyance, outlay, perhaps litigation—how much greater would be the burdens thrown upon the different Lands Departments in having to revise all surveys. The prospect opened up is an appalling one, and the immensity of labour involved, which would not be completed for tens of years to come, not to speak of the money it would cost, is likely to have a deterrent effect in adopting a system, not Only strange to us, but which is not wanted, and is inferior
to the one we are acquainted with.
Great Expenditure Involved.
No one can even approximate what it would cost to instal new weights and measures throughout the length and breadth of the Empire to replace those now in use, The thousands upon many thousands who in some way or other have recourse to weights and measures in the pursuance of their avocations, would not only have to face new methods of working, and fresh forms of calculations, but would have to do so with implements of unfamiliar dimensions. It would be impossible to catalogue them—the engineer's gauge, the carpenter’s rule, and the milkman’s pint, the butcher’s 1b., the tailor’s tape, the warehouseman’s appliances for determin- ing weight, qualities and values, all would have to be swept away; and sums of money, great and small, would have to be spent in obtaining new material, or in having present plants altered. Manufacturers of these goods would reap a golden harvest. They look for it eagerly, and are not slow in loosing their purse strings to foment an agitation destined to bring about that result. Some of them hunger for an opportunity to batten on the misfortunes of the people. But what of the masses, who will have to foot the bill?
The interests of science, simplicity, uniformity, clerical convenience, advantages in foreign trade, and kindred claims, not always supported by fair tests, are invoked by Associa- tions called into, and kept in, existence by a certain class of manufacturers, in the hope that a public, not always too well informed and alert on such matters, and who have not time or opportunity for reasoning such questions out, may be induced to suffer a change which is not required, is not desirable, and would prove a source of entanglement in every branch of trade, without conferring any adequate advantage. The whole country would be plunged into a ,chaos of differing weights and measures, and unwarranted expenditure involved.
The outlay involved would aggregate an enormous sum The pockets of the people would be touched, and they would speedily want to know what beneﬁt they were going to get in return. When they pay out money, they want some advantage in return. In this instance, the tax upon the trading community would be a heavy one, without reward but intolerable inconvenience and confusion in the transaction of business. We have here no records of the number of weighing and measuring appliances in use, but considering the great internal and external trade we have, it would be Well Within the mark to say that in the Commonwealth of Australia alone, with its population of 4,000,000, an expenditure of at least half a million pounds would be involved in obtaining new and altering present appliances. The replace- ment of ofﬁcial standards would cost another £250,000, and- a huge staff would need to be employed in enforcing the change, and in instructing the people in interpreting the differences between the old and new codes.
Superiority of our Present System.
Pre-eminently a commercial, practical people, we have found the system in use adequate to and suitable for our requirements. It is more than that, it has been found superior to any other, and defects which exist are not so grave as are to be found in other methods. The late Warden of Standards of Great Britain (Mr. H. ]. Chisholm), said :— “There can be no question of the convenience of our “weights and measures over those of the metric system for “the practical purposes of weighing and measuring,” and Jackson writes that an examination of the English commer- cial measures will show them to be “either as good, or “nearly as good as any other, excepting in one or two “respects; while if the whole of the circumstances and “conditions be taken into consideration, it may be considered “ the ﬁrst, from being most suited to circumstances and the “people. A country of large commercial transactions in “every branch of trade is necessarily most liable to a super- “ ﬂuity of measures, and hence also to a considerable extent “ of incongruity; but when the extent and the diversity of “ English commerce is borne in mind, it is a fact worthy of “ notice that the natural English system is a single system, “having one foot, one mile, one acre, one pound, one gallon, “and one bushel. It will not, it is true, bear comparison “ with the French system as a scientiﬁc one, although it is “inﬁnitely superior to it for the commercial purposes of “weighing and measuring in ordinary trade transactions; in “fact, the pre—eminence it has is due to the fact that it is “not a scientiﬁc system, but purely adapted to convenience “ in commerce.” Seiss, Piazzi Smith, and many other writers, contend for the total superiority of our system.
Metricalisation has received adoption in all the countries of Europe, except Russia and our own motherland. 'But at I this juncture we may proﬁtably consider the course of events in two great divisions of the English—speaking race—the United States of America and Canada. If it be true, though- it cannot be admitted, that the United Kingdom is losing ground in the struggle for commercial supremacy by adherence to out—of-date methods, our kinsmen in the ‘ countries named are not under any imputation of slothfulness in matters of trade. Yet we ﬁnd them adhering to the British system in all great essentials. Uncle Sam has made some modiﬁcations in the direction of simplicity by the abolition, for example, of cwts. and qrs., using only lbs., in stating quantities, large or small. The gallon used is different, being the old English one. In Canada, though the metric system has been permissive since 1871, it has failed to come into use, and is not likely to. On the contrary, adherence to British standards has been strengthened. Mr. Brunel, chief of the Weights and Measures Department, has written : “ No reason exists for adopting the metric system in Canada. “We have already standards of weights and length, which “have been long common to the whole Empire, and by “which the greater part of the international trade of the “ whole world is regulated. Although there does not appear “to be any probability of the metric system coming into “common use in Canada, there are reasons for believing “ that it will become the international system, and that there “will be but two systems—the French and the English.”
The very wide—awake people of the United States, we may -
be sure, would not hesitate one moment in making a change if they deemed it beneﬁcial. That they do not is a tribute to the sufficiency of the one they work by. One writer reasonably argues that “when the preponderance of com- “ merce is French, it may become advisable to adopt French “measures and monetary units in foreign trade; until that “time it is certainly unnecessary, while for purposes of trade “it would be a mischievous innovation.”
A Practical Question.
In dealing with this subject, the chief aim has been to discuss it in terms which can be readily understood, to keep it free of intricacies which repel those, other than students, who happen to take up text—books upon metrology. In some of these works, fantastic reasonings are occasionally encountered. There are those who deplore the suggested change because it would deprive us of that valued form of intellectual gymnastics, mental arithmetic, mechanical forms of calculation taking its place. Some condemn the French system on the ground that it is offensive, by reason of its supposed atheistical origin. Another objects to our heredi- tary measures being ruthlessly discarded, because he believes them to have been preserved almost miraculously to the nation from primeval times for apparently a Divine purpose. Speculations upon these points would, for the present, be as proﬁtless as research into the merits of ancient methods, and in what way, if any, our system is founded upon them. The question is, above all things, a practical one, and has
to be considered in a practical way.
On the other side, the advocates of metricalisation have been, and frequently still are, guilty of overstating their case. They have set up fanciful claims of superiority, which have no solid foundation. How shallow some of these pretensions are has been indicated. Much more could easily be said. The mass of material at hand makes it difﬁcult to keep within reasonable dimensions. . The claim to scientiﬁc accuracy of the metric system is absurd. The base is
incorrect ; the standards formed upon it are faulty for aught we know, for they have not been subject to examination
itsince they were enshrined and secluded strictly from public gaze 3 and, we are assured, “the standard metric weights “of Europe are copies of an inexact copy.” This has led to the caustic criticism contained in these words: “The “ancient Egyptians may have built pyramids as mural “standards of measures, the Romans may have laboriously “adopted the Greek and the Egyptian measures to practical “ purposes and wants; were the English to reconstruct their “metrical system they would scientiﬁcally weigh a cubic “yard, or at least a cubic foot, of water, but the French “alone would make a single miserable decimetre of such “ dimensions (the kilogramme), borrow decimalisation from “the Chinese, and propagate the result by presents of Sévres “vases, large medals, and sentiments of mutual admiration.” The facility in calculations afforded by the metric scheme is common to all decimal systems, which after all are very ancient, but clerical convenience is not everything—in thought and practice we will always adhere to binary sub- divisions in our commercial measures, halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, and so on. Those who are in touch with trade in the metric countries would derive beneﬁt from a change, by doing away with the necessity of transposing the weights and measures of one system into another. It is at best a question of the .cost of securing trade, and to enable a small minority to reap an advantage at the enormous expense of the great majority.
Merchants who trade abroad must be prepared to face exactly the same difﬁculties which meet the foreign manu- facturers who wish to exploit the markets in English-speaking communities, which have uniformity in all essentials.
The argument that we should adopt metricalisation because so many other countries have done so, is unsound. In acting as they did they made an advance. We, in the British Empire, have, fortunately, no such multiplicity of measures as they had, and which made uniformity cheap at any price. Still, favourable as were the conditions for the introduction of something very much better than they possessed, the difﬁculties met during the transition periods—in many cases not yet ended—were very great.
So far as scientists are concerned, generally they use the metric system, and are in no way hindered in calculating by any method they select. They are indifferent to the units of retail trade, the pecks, pots, and pounds, or the quarters, eighths, and sixteenths of daily weighing and measuring. Professional men must, however, use a system having accordance with commercial measures, and these measures,
to be convenient, must possess appropriate modes of subdi- vision at almost every point where every branch of trade
may require one.
The metric system offers no sufﬁcient advantage to justify
us in discarding what is in reality superior—what we have been habituated to, which we have found equal to all demands made upon it. Our system is part and parcel of ourselves; and adherence to old and wise customs is too deep rooted to be destroyed. There exists no popular demand for a change; the agitation is the work of a few, some of whom‘are interested for unworthy and selﬁsh reasons. The attitude of the public is markedly one of indifference. Fortunately we can generally rely upon the common sense of the representatives of the people in the various Parliaments to resist attempts to force upon us a retrogade measure. Should that safeguard fail, however, it is easy to foresee that such a storm would be raised, so much turmoil would be created, every branch of trade would be so disturbed, that practical completion of the movement would never be accomplished. The English-speaking communities lead the world in commerce, with a common system of weights and measures, and to ask them to dispense with it would be to make a heavy demand upon their practical methods of dealing with business, and is quite as illogical as to ask us to change our language in order to facilitate trade
We have the best system of weights and measures in existence. It is suited to our commercial requirements, long practical employment has proved its value for all trading purposes, it is part of our language, and ingrained in us. Not one sufﬁciently valid ground has been advanced why we should abandon it for an inferior scheme, and every high consideration of our national welfare bids us to "hold fast to that which is good," and particularly when there is nothing better to replace it.At the close of his long and laborious life, Mr. Gladstone said: "I do not like changes for their own sake. I only like a change when it is needful to alter something bad into something good, or something which is good into something better." Those who ask for the change have absolutely failed to prove that they offer us something better than what we possess. Standing as I do on neutral ground, with only public interests to serve, giving many years of close professional attention to the question, without reservation I would advise that the fundamental change should not be made. The alteration sought would be oppressive upon the people, and the price of uniformity would be enormous inconvenience Which none living would see the end of. The people who trade abroad are the very ones most able to meet any difﬁculties which now arise, and the interests of home traders, in their widest and best sense, should not be sacriﬁced to meet the wishes of the few. Our system is the best in the world, and should be maintained. In matters of administration, improvements can be effected. These should be in the direction of protecting the consumers of goods, and the honest vendors of them. Legislation upon such matters urgently calls for reform, and no doubt will come in due season. That, however, is apart from the question I have been debating in this work, and my purpose will have been amply served if I have been successful in throwing some light upon a little known subject, and, above all, in leading my readers to the conclusion I have long since arrived at—that our system is, fundamentally, the best in existence, the most convenient for the needs of man, and that it would be an act of stupendous and costly folly, to change to the metric system.
Just on the point of going to press the following article appeared in the Daily Telegraph of February 17, 1904, and the world-wide reputation of Herbert Spencer precludes the necessity for any apology for republishing the extract :—
HERBERT SPENCER'S WILL.
The late Mr. Herbert Spencer's will (writes our London correspondent) is typical of the man. There are the most minute directions-as to the disposal of his goods, his works and copyrights.
The most interesting feature of the will is a clause in the codicil. Mr. Spencer expressly desires that, whenever a bill is introduced into Parliament dealing with the metric system, his pamphlet against that system shall be re-printed and distributed amongst the members of both Houses, and placed on sale at a nominal price. Here, as one of the papers puts it, is "a clear example of a ruling passion strong in death." The philosopher’s objection to the metric system was plainly inveterate, although the public, proverbially short of memory, had probably forgotten all about his pamphlet, which has long been out of print. It was written in 1896, and originally appeared in the form of a series of letters to The Times, under the signature of "A Correspondent," to oppose the promised introduction of a bill favoring the adoption of the metric system in England. Mr. Balfour, later in the session, stated in the House that he did not contemplate in any way imposing the metric system on the country, but Spencer, fearing that the agitation might be renewed, decided to publish the letters he had written in pamphlet form, and it is this pamphlet to which he refers in his will.
The principle of the metric system, in Spencer's opinion, "is essentially imperfect, and its faults are great and incurable. Professedly aiming at introducing uniformity of method, the system, he said, cannot be brought into harmony with certain unalterable divisions of space, nor, with the artiﬁcial divisions of time which have been adopted by man. The earth and moon are, by an astronomical accident, opposed to the decimal system. It happens that there are twelve full moons during the earth's journey round the sun, and consequently twelve calendar months. Then there is the circle with its 360 degrees, "I suppose," says Spencer, "you will divide the circle into 100 degrees, each degree into 100 minutes, and each minute into 100 seconds. But astronomical observations throughout a long past have been registered by the existing mode of measurement, and works for nautical guidance are based upon it. It would be impracticable to alter the arrangement." The year of 365 days, Mr. Spencer points out, does not admit of division into tenths, and if we altered it we should run counter to custom again. But with all his rooted objections to the metric principle Spencer nevertheless admitted the short-comings of our existing systems.
[Mr. Spencer published a further series of four articles in The Times on March 28, April 4, 8, and 13, 1899, in reply to criticisms upon the pamphlet mentioned. These will all be found in the 1900 edition of his "Various Fragments."]
- The death of Sir F. Bramwell has been announced since this was written. He had been president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1888). He was also a civilian member of the Ordnance Committee of the War Ofﬁce since its inauguration in 1881.
- NOTE—After this chapter had been written there appeared in Sydney Morning Herald, November 11, 1903, a letter from the London correspondent of that paper, in which he says that the British Acting Consul-General in Cuba had ofﬁcially reported upon the diminution in British commerce there, stating :—“ It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that where we have lost the trade in any particular article in this country, it is not generally because the foreigner has produced something better and cheaper, but because our own manufacturers have not taken the trouble to push the trade.”