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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/158

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146
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

apparent that the company is aware of the difficulties ahead, and in taking what steps under the circumstances are possible. Important announcements were made at the last annual meeting, July 21st. To reduce the ultimate cost, significant changes, De Lesseps stated, had been determined upon. The immense dam, as to which so much controversy has existed, is suppressed. The tide-lock, which was to have been built at the Pacific terminus, is eliminated; also the basin, five kilometres long, at the center of the Isthmus. Nor is the intimation lacking that the dimensions of the channel itself may be reduced. When the president of the company observes that after his inspection of the work, to occur in a few months, he will finally be able to state how the completion of the undertaking is to be effected, one can not but ask whether, to furnish as expeditiously as possible a provisional, serviceable channel, the plan of a lock-canal may not be adopted. Such a solution is not wholly improbable. Subsequently, if the prospects of the enterprise allow, for the above solution the original plan may be substituted; the channel may be cut to the sea-level. The adoption of a lock plan, the summit level to be fed by the Chagres, has been for months, and is still, under consideration by the engineering authorities.

By means of whatever instrumentalities, whether of an engineering or non-engineering type, the company is to proceed with the work, and whatever doubt attaches to the choice of these, none seems admissible as to completion itself. This can hardly be considered a question. Such a view is confirmed by the recent inspection of the work by Lieutenant Charles C. Rogers, U. S. Navy, a brief reference to whose views occurs in an addendum to the present article. While much interest attaches to aspects of the case, which have been referred to—instrumentalities to be employed and the decisions of scientific authorities—there is a question which has not received the attention it deserves, and which is intimately connected with the financial outcome. This it is proposed to examine. How far has the faculty of contrivance and that of invention accelerated the work? How far may it be expected to in future? Such an aspect of the case deserves more attention than many suppose.

The hostility of England to the Suez Canal placed that enterprise for a time in a critical position, by bringing about the abolition of forced labor. But this opposition was in fact the best aid that could have been furnished the undertaking, for it led to the invention of machines which shortened and cheapened the work to a remarkable degree. These inventions have been of service in similar enterprises ever since. Had less efficient devices been brought out at Suez, De Lesseps might well have hesitated before entering upon the more difficult task at Panama. But to meet these more serious obstacles, he possessed mechanical appliances far superior to the rude enginery of 1854. And if, as it is reasonable to anticipate, further radical im-