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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/415

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APPLETONS’

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

FEBRUARY, 1900.



SOUTH SEA BUBBLES IN SCIENCE.
By Prof. JOHN TROWBRIDGE,

DIRECTOR OF JEFFERSON PHYSICAL LABORATORY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

THE advances in science lead to hopes of the sudden accumulation of gold, just as the discovery of new worlds led our ancestors to invest in many inflated enterprises of commerce and conquest. This older temptation has passed away, for there are no new worlds to discover, and this small globe has been practically staked out; but the mysterious domains of science are still illimitable, and afford vast opportunities for inflated schemes which have their prototype in the South Sea Bubble.

Let us refresh our memory of this surprising delusion. It arose in the reign of Queen Anne, nearly one hundred and eighty years ago, and when we consider the extent of the speculation and gambling which it caused and the number of those who lost everything and who consigned their families to bitter poverty, we are tempted to class it with those other calamities which preceded it and which afflicted England so heavily—the great fire of London and the plague. The South Sea Company claimed to have enormous sources of profit in certain exclusive privileges, obtained from the Spanish Government, for trading in their possessions in South America and Mexico; and it may be well for us in these times of the flotation of schemes for obtaining gold from salt water and from sands, of power from air and something more ethereal than • air, to be reminded of the many bubbles that came into existence and burst at the time of the collapse of the South Sea Bubble.

The stock of the South Sea Company rose from one hundred to a thousand, and an army of future victims crowded the offices of