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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/174

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162
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

has certainly taught him to look with some confidence. When the work on the Suez Canal was begun, and under climatic conditions much the same as those at the Isthmus of Panama, the Suez Canal Company was entitled by its charter to as many native laborers as it required up to forty thousand, and at an almost nominal price. As these men were drafted into the company's service by corvée, England protested against a "revival of slavery" in Egypt. The Khedive was constrained to break his contract with the company, for which he had afterward to pay an indemnity of thirty-eight million francs, and M. de Lesseps had the mortification of seeing his little army of twenty thousand fellahs dispersed as suddenly and as irrevocably as an April fog.

The logic of the situation promptly suggested the replacing of the men with machines; the putting of slaves without souls or sensibilities in the place of slaves with both. The inventive genius of his countrymen was stimulated by the gravity of the crisis, and in due time from eighty to one hundred dredges, with an appropriate supply of barges, elevators, steam-tugs, locomotives, etc., had taken the place of a large portion of the men withdrawn; and this machinery, with only, four thousand men, increased the monthly output from ten thousand cubic metres to two million, and executed more excavation in the last three years of the work than had been done in the previous seven. May not the scarcity and cost of manual labor on the Isthmus in like manner develop the means of dispensing with at least that portion which the labor market will not cheerfully supply?

The results already accomplished in that direction justify the expectation that, to a considerable extent, it may. There are already at work on the Isthmus machines for dredging and for excavation, far more powerful and efficient than any ever used on the Suez Canal or anywhere else.

It is the opinion of Mr. Bigelow that De Lesseps's "remarkable experience" at Suez has led him to anticipate the forwarding of the Panama work by similar means. This expectation is illustrated by an incident of the Paris Congress. Lavalley, the inventor of the dredges, was there—was in fact a member; and to him De Lesseps referred at one of the sittings as an engineer "who had already invented so many machines, and who, under similar circumstances, would know how to invent more."

Mr. Bigelow observes, with regard more especially to excavators, "There is no reason to suppose that, in the creation of such machines, art and science have reached a limit in any direction." One might say with Arago:

"Croire tout inventé n'est qu'une erreur profonde;
C'est prendre l'horizon pour les bornes du monde."

We can not suppose that an horizon of inventive impossibilities has settled down about Panama.

With regard to Mr. Bigelow's statement that there are at work machines for dredging and excavation "far more powerful" than any ever used elsewhere, it has been already stated that the greater power of these mechanisms is chiefly due to their increased dimensions and the higher steam-power employed. Let us take the "City of New