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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/241

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WHY PROGRESS IS BY LEAPS.

This rapid survey of what electricity has done and yet may do has shown it the creator of a thousand material resources: the corner stone of physical generalization; a stimulus to the moral sense, by making what otherwise were an empty wish rise to sympathy fulfilled; while, in more closely binding up the good of the bee with the welfare of the hive, it is an educator and confirmer of every social bond. Are we not, then, justified in holding electricity to be a multiplier of faculty and insight, a means of dignifying mind and soul, unexampled since man first kindled fire and rejoiced?

And the advances due to electricity have significance still unexhausted. It was in 1800, on the threshold of the nineteenth century, that Volta devised the first battery—the crown of cups. In less than a hundred years the force then liberated has vitally interwoven itself with every art and science, with fruitage not to be imagined even by men of the stature of Watt, Lavoisier, or Humboldt. Compare this rapidity of conquest with the slow adaptation, through age after age, of fire to cooking, smelting, tempering. Yet it was partly because the use of fire had drawn out man's intelligence that he was ready so quickly to seize upon electricity and subdue it. The principle of permutation, illustrated in both victories, interprets not only the vast expansion of human empire won by a new weapon of prime power, it explains also why these accessions are brought under rule with ever-accelerated pace. Every new talent but clears the way for the talents newer still which are born from it.

And a fresh mode of mastery entails other consequences well worthy of remark. Suppose two contending armies face each other, fairly matched, except that one has the telegraph and the other has not. Which will win? In less striking fashion, but still decisively, must every factor of prime rank as it made its appearance have told in the battles of early man. Let us turn from discovery and invention to some consideration of the primitive discoverer and inventor, and try to recall the epoch when his inarticulate cries were becoming the rudiments of speech. Let us imagine him a hunter returning to his fellows from a solitary expedition. He tells that he saw a deer quench its thirst at a brookside, but found the animal too fleet for his arrow; how he heard in the distance a bear's fierce growl, and fortunately came upon a cave where he took refuge till the brute had passed. Such a faculty of communication as this, even in its beginnings, would give a tribe enjoying it an incalculable advantage over its unspeaking kin. Speech makes the distant as if present in space, makes the past as if present in time; it is the first and most signal step, therefore, by which man conquers both space and time. No elephant or dog, however intelligent, has means to tell