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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/419

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SOUTH SEA BUBBLES IN SCIENCE.

that electricity miglit afford an economical method of treating large quantities of water, is reticent in regard to such a scheme, while the electrician, ignorant of chemistry, is ready to concede that the chemists may have found a cheap extractor, so the promoter can play the chemist against the electrician, and there is no arbitrator in sight. The American is peculiarly in peril from the absence of a large body of men trained in technical science, such as exist in Germany. He also has been unduly excited, and his desire for love of sudden wealth stimulated by phenomenal successes. The commercial triumph of the telephone has led to a multitude of scientific bubbles, and has resulted, like the discovery of gold in the Klondike, in a rush into electrical schemes which have been held up to a hungry crowd of victims as second only to the Bell telephone.

While the telegraph and the telephone can prevent speculations like the South Sea Bubble in a great measure, for such schemes were much aided by a lack of a general dissemination of intelligence, and this lack is supplied by a quick interchange of knowledge, they bring their own peculiar peril, for they are examples of what profit may be reaped from discovery in the world of science. The commercial enterprises of the world have been brought within reach of the many by the telegraph and telephone. They no longer belong to the few, while the successful working of the field of science is still confined to a minority and the general public; even the cultivated people are very ignorant of the approaches to the New El Dorado. No bogus land scheme or salted mining enterprise can be kept in existence to-day for a long period; but the Keeley motor, with its ethereal vibrations and its pseudo-molecular motions, was limited in activity only by the life of the promoter. Instead of the alchemists we have the seekers after power, which costs nothing, and in the train of the honest inventor there are unscrupulous promoters ready to capitalize any remarkable new fact or discovery which attracts public attention.

I have mentioned the influence of the first Duchess of Marlborough in inducing her husband, the great duke, to sell out his shares in the South Sea Bubble when they had risen to a high value because this example of discrimination and prudence in a woman supports one in the belief that all women are not prone to invest in women's bank schemes, in Keeley motors, or in enterprises for "carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is." One of my friends recently visited the office of a company which proposed to produce power without the expenditure of a due amount of energy, and found among those anxious to invest a woman who said that she had just received a dividend from the company for extracting gold from salt water, and she was