Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/213

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
199
THE METRIC SYSTEM.

the retailer is or is not facilitated in portioning out these large quantities into small quantities is a question having no business interest for them. More than this is true. Not only have they never in their lives measured out fractional amounts in return for small sums of money, but they have rarely witnessed the process. Their domestic supplies are obtained by deputy, usually in considerable quantities; and neither behind the counter nor before it have they with any frequency seen the need for easy divisibility into aliquot parts. Their testimony is supposed to be that of practical men, while in respect of the essential issue—the use of weights and measures for retail trade—they have had no practice whatever.

See, then, the strange position. 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 measuring transactions, 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 rearranged by the inexperienced!

 

To the Editor of the Times.

Sir: I am one of those who believe that this system, in conjunction with its inevitable concomitant, decimals, is one which is absolutely incompatible with mental arithmetic, and that, whatever theorists may say to the contrary, it demands more figures to perform most ordinary sums than does our present system, when' rightly applied; and, further, is much more likely to lead to error, owing to the very multiplicity of figures, and, above all, to the common error in placing the decimal point.

But, without further obtruding my views, which I am aware will carry but little weight with your readers, I desire to be allowed to send to you an extract from the Comte de Montholon's book, vol. iv, pages 213 to 218, stating the views of the First Napoleon on this point, thinking that probably this will be read with interest.

I send also an extract from "Littré," giving the meaning of the (to me) unusual term "nombre complexe," for which I know of no English equivalent.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Frederick Bramwell.