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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/166

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

point of the coast from west to east, he says it had been again and again pronounced impossible to build it, because stone was not to be obtained. There were no quarries, it was alleged, nearer than Lake Timsah or Suez, and quarry-stones could not be dragged one hundred or even fifty miles across the desert. It turned out that there were quarries near Alexandria, whence the stone might have been brought by sea. The contractors, however, as the historian of the canal tells us, "fell back on their own resources"; they manufactured the stone on the spot. The artificial blocks thus compounded were two thirds sand and one third hydraulic lime. Each weighed over twenty tons, and nearly thirty thousand were manufactured and tumbled into the sea. We are assured that "the whole has continued as firm as any structure of the kind in Europe, and is consolidating with every year."

The not carefully considered prediction of the "Edinburgh Review" is almost without significance when compared with others made in the House of Commons by Robert Stephenson and Lord Palmerston. If not the first, Mr. Stephenson was one of the first, of English engineers. In a debate, in June, 1858, Lord Palmerston referred to the scheme as "the greatest bubble that had ever been sought to be imposed on the credulity of the public." The canal, Mr. Stephenson averred, was "physically impossible." It was a mistake to talk of a canal. "It would be simply a ditch. . . . How could a canal be dug eighty miles long, without drinking-water along its course?" But the project, supposed to be so impracticable, did not deserve this sort of treatment. Within thirteen years of inauguration it paid seventeen per cent. That such predictions were falsified, and in so signal, even grotesque a fashion, Mas due, in part at least, to the inventive capacity, the constructive talent, which the undertaking called forth. Upon Lavalley and Couvreux, as well as upon De Lesseps, it devolved to show that ditches might be made serviceable, and a financial "bubble" converted into an astonishing success.

The part of our subject now examined serves, strictly speaking, as an introduction to what in a special sense we have to consider—the work at Panama and connection of inventions with it. Of the three enterprises to which attention has been directed, one—that at Suez—bears a close analogy, both as to the use for which it was built and the character of the machinery employed, to the enterprise at Panama. Such an analogy we do not meet, if we set alongside the case of the tunnels and that of the American enterprise, although from one point of view the work in them resembled more closely that at Panama than that at Suez. In the case of the tunnels, blasting was the regular process, hardly a foot was excavated without it; and a very considerable amount of blasting is required at Panama. Visitors to the works have in fact compared the explosions heard for miles along the excavation to musketry-discharges in battle. In respect to the