|INVENTION AND DISCOVERY.|
PRESIDENT OF THE ENGINEERING SECTION OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION.
ON this occasion I propose to devote my remarks to the subject of invention.
It is a subject of considerable importance, not only to engineers, but also to men of science and the public generally.
I also propose to treat invention in its wider sense, and to include under the word discoveries in physics, mechanics, chemistry and geology.
Invention throughout the middle ages was held in little esteem. In most dictionaries it receives scant reference except as applied to poetry, painting and sculpture.
Shakespeare and Dryden describe invention as a kind of muse or inspiration in relation to the arts, and when taken in its general sense to be associated with deceit, as 'Return with an invention, and clap upon you two or three plausible lies.'
As to the opposition and hostility to scientific research, discovery and mechanical invention in the past, and until comparatively recent times, there can be no question, in some cases the opposition actually amounting to persecution and cruelty.
The change in public opinion has been gradual. The great inventions of the last century in science and the arts have resulted in a large increase of knowledge and the powers of man to harness the forces of nature. These great inventions have proved without question that the inventors in the past have, in the widest sense, been among the greatest benefactors of the human race. Yet the lot of the inventor until recent years has been exceptionally trying, and even in our time I scarcely think that any one would venture to describe it as altogether a happy one. The hostility and opposition which the inventor suffered in the middle ages have certainly been removed, but he still labors under serious disability in many respects under law as compared with other sections of the community. The change of public feeling in favor of discovery and invention has progressed with rapidity during the last century. Not only have private individuals devoted more time and money to the work, but societies, institutions, colleges, municipalities and governments have founded research laboratories, and in some instances have provided large endowments. These measures have increased the number of persons trained to scientific methods, and also