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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/575

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

Now we plunge once more into an era of disasters. But what does this suggest, if not that prolonged immunity from accident due, as Mr. Morgan says, to the strides of science and to skillful organization, had led to a less vivid realization of the dangers attendant on railway traffic, and a consequent relaxation of vigilance. This is just what would naturally happen, so why invoke the "act of God" to explain what natural principles are quite sufficient to account for? All things tend more or less to move in cycles; all action, we might almost say, tends more or less to polarize itself and so to check or reverse its current. Thus prolonged immunity from disaster tends to weaken that very realization of danger which is the first condition of safety. Hence follows, in natural sequence, a relaxation of the rigorous discipline to which safety had been due; and then we have not long to wait for such accidents as Mr. Morgan would fain persuade us are to bo classed as "acts of God." Again, Mr. Morgan tells ns that "however we may explain it, it happens to be one of the most persistent of truths that accidents are of more frequent occurrence upon bankrupt or non-dividend paying, than upon solvent and dividend paying, railroads." Truths are very apt to be persistent when they rest upon some permanent principle; and in this case the explanation of the truth mentioned by Mr. Morgan is very obvious. The solvent and flourishing railroads can afford to pay for, and do pay for, better service than the bankrupt and decaying ones; and the better service gives better results in point of safety—leaves less opportunity for "acts of God." If Mr. Morgan's "truth" was not so persistent, or if it was persistent the other way; and if it could be shown either that the ratio of accident did not depend at all upon vigor of management, or that the more vigorous the management the greater the number of unaccountable accidents, then there would indeed be something to say for the "act-of-God" theory. It is strange that Mr. Morgan should dwell with such emphasis upon a truth that tends so directly and persistently to contradict his own thesis.

But what are the railway companies to do, it may be asked, if things naturally move in cycles, and if accidents are therefore liable to follow in ordinary course upon a period of freedom from accidents? We answer that it is for man in the maturity of his intellectual development so to take account of the action of natural laws as to provide against their injurious results. It is a law of Nature that metal expands with heat and contracts with cold, but the pendulums of clocks meant to keep accurate time are not left on that account to undergo all the vicissitudes of temperature. The voltaic cell is not left to polarize itself out of all usefulness, nor the furnace-fire to quench itself with its own ashes. In every such case, as soon as the law is observed, measures are devised, with more or less success, to introduce such compensations or rectifications as may be required; and we refuse to believe that compensatory measures of an entirely analogous kind could not be introduced in the railway service of the country to prevent safety from polarizing itself into disaster.

We quite fail to see what Mr. Morgan hopes to gain for his argument by remarking, as he does more than once, that the disasters he cites—those, namely, at Republic, at White River Junction, at Forest Hills, at Chatsworth, and at Kouts' Station—happened "from the simplest natural causes," and might have happened equally to the rudest vehicular contrivances of primeval or prehistoric man. As to the natural causes, of course they are simple enough: a bridge that is half burned away can not be expected to possess the strength of one in perfect