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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/July 1888/Correspondence

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 33‎ | July 1888



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

I BELIEVE it will be the verdict of the readers of Hon. David A. Wells's papers recently concluded in the "Monthly" that they have given the most luminous sketch of the complex courses of modern industrial life that has yet appeared. Probably no writer has fortified his ideas by such a broad acquaintance with the living facts of industry; none has reached his conclusions by so wide an induction. And the absence of partisanship in ideas, the "philosophic calm" attained by so few even among philosophers, have been shown by Mr. Wells in a remarkable degree.

Instead of vague and incoherent talk about stock-watering, the Standard Oil Company, Jay Gould, speculation, and other all-sufficient "causes," we have had clear statements of the actual facts observed in the various departments of trade. Mr. Wells has shown us how one change in business led to others, and how these others disturbed still others; how nearly every walk of life has been greatly changed by the introduction of new processes, dependent, primarily, upon the application of steam and electricity to industry. From this review we see how little individuals have controlled the course of events, and how inevitable has been the revolution through which we have passed; and how Legislatures and States have been little more potent than individuals. In fine (if I may venture to state comprehensively the net result of Mr. Wells's papers), we have been shown that—

The industrial disturbances lately felt throughout civilization have consisted in the economic waste, the displacement of occupations, capital, skill, and social habit, due to the rapid and unceasing change in the methods of production and distribution; which change was itself due principally to the great mechanical inventions; that, among business classes, panics have been the result of the continual overthrow of established forms of business by new forms, and the unequal and disorderly rush of capital into these new forms, alternating oversupply with scarcity; and that among the laboring-classes there have been a corresponding displacement, insecurity, and suffering.

That part of Mr. Wells's essay which deals with the remarkable increase of social discontent attributed to our time seems to me the least satisfactory part of his performance. The result of his observations on this point seems to be that there is no valid reason for this discontent, and that the "laboring" and all other classes are better off than ever before. He indeed shows that much suffering has arisen from the "displacement of labor through more economical methods of production and distribution"; as where the hand-loom weavers were thrown out of employment by the introduction of the power-loom. But he also shows that these displacements have been only temporary, that the demand for labor soon becomes all the greater because of the new methods, which must lead us to infer the insufficiency of the cause assigned to account for the phenomenon, especially as sudden displacements have taken place only in a small proportion of industries. Two other causes are assigned: changes in the nature of employments, which tend to degrade the operatives of factories, and a general increase of intelligence. But no very serious effort seems to be made to support these hypothetical causes. Indeed, they may perhaps be said to exclude each other. Man is certainly a very unfortunate creature if he grows unhappy both when circumstances lower his "grade" and lessen his intelligence, and also when his intelligence is increased. For such a state of things there would seem to be small hope of remedy, since we can scarcely hope to maintain a dead level. The reader is left somewhat in the dark on the matter.

Content and discontent are doubtless largely dependent upon the quantity and quality of the food we have, the money we lay by, and the houses we live in; upon all of which Mr. Wells throws so much light. But it is superfluous to argue that happiness is dependent on conditions much more complex than these. The greater part—I think by far the greater part—of the unhappiness in the world comes from other things than insufficient food, clothing, and shelter. "All happiness in life," says Goethe, "is founded upon the regular return of external things." This remark of the great philosopher and poet, for which the equivalent could doubtless be found in Spencer's writings, seems to me to furnish the key to the problem. Our race has been accustomed for numberless generations to harder work and infinitely greater risk and privation than it endures at present; but it also had a character inured, through hundreds of years to its occupations and had habits and desires approximately conforming to its necessities. But the violent transition through which we have lately passed has probably changed to a very large extent the occupations of ninety-five per cent of the population within a single generation. The old, happy-go-lucky, sit-around-and-whittle-a-stick generation has been ruthlessly exterminated. Even the good old philosophy of Franklin's "Poor Richard" has had to go; and, in place of the steady, conservative habits which Franklin inculcated, we have a fierce philosophy which perhaps best expresses itself in the current determination not to "get left," and to get there "fairly and easily if possible, but at any rate to 'get there.'" The industrial world has been revolutionized in a half-century; and the non-adaptation of the population to its industrial environment has put a severe nervous strain upon the entire race. Hence comes the great and annually increasing percentage of insane to be found in all civilized countries, and particularly in the United States and England. Our condition has been materially bettered, but this does not altogether compensate for the strangeness of the surroundings; and, like the child of the forest brought unwillingly into civilization, mental health longs for a little barbarism. Naturally, under the circumstances, the most striking of the ill effects of the strain imposed by the new conditions are found in the foreign population which comes to this country with so little preparation. The proportion of insane among this class is very great. But the force of the resisting and reactive tendency may be seen almost everywhere. A college president recently called in a state church as a remedy for our woes, a medicine in order some ten centuries ago. Among economists we have a "new" school, composed largely of young men of little practical experience, who have got their ideas in German universities, and who exhibit a profound partiality for despotic government, and the revival of that régime where "the state" was everywhere. In letters we have Carlyle, whose passion for the imperialistic, the feudal, the patriarchal, joins with his contempt for liberalism of every form; Ruskin, whose detestation of the steam-engine and modern arrangements in general reaches an insane pitch; and Tennyson, the central note of whose thoughtful poetry is one of unrest and impatience. These great writers faithfully reflect the feeling of many, and perhaps most of us; and similar tones are found in our lesser writers. It is rather ludicrous to note how often the newspapers call for "rigid" legislation of some kind or other. And of course the Legislatures and courts have not failed to reflect faithfully, as is their duty, the temper of society at large. Thus, along with our great advance, we are suffering the agitation and disquiet of a necessary reaction. Travelers on the St. Lawrence will remember a scene typifying our social situation. As the steamer falls into the swift current of the Lachine Rapids, and takes on a fearful speed, we notice short, steep waves angrily assailing us from front and sides. These waves are raised by the rapidity of the water's descent, which, rushing downward at a rate of twenty-five miles an hour, is lashed to fury by the air, just as a rushing air raises the still waters of a lake or ocean. And the very swiftness of the descent is indicated by, and makes inevitable, the violence of the resisting waves, as we shoot down to the calm waters below the rapids.

A republication of Mr. Wells's articles is very desirable. It seems to me that they will be accepted as the best contribution of recent years to economic science. Pardon my long letter.

Charles S. Ashley.
Toledo, May 5, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Mr. A. B. Johnson, in his article in the May number, on "Sound-Signals," referring to my code, commends it as the best he has yet met with, but alludes to it especially as an adaptation of the Morse code. To correct any impression that might arise that my code was suggested by Morse's telegraphic alphabet, I beg to state that it simply has nothing to do with the Morse code, except that the different signals, long and short, with varying intervals of silence—or non-signaling—may be indicated by dot and dash on a compass-card or chart for convenience. The signals consist of whistle blasts, indicating, not only the position of a vessel in fog or darkness, but also the direction in which she is moving. It is not designed as an alphabet, except to indicate courses being steered by vessels in danger of colliding if they did not indicate in some way as approximately as possible their position and course.

Without disputing the facts already stated in this magazine, and in previous articles by the same writer, founded on scientific observation—viz., that aberration of sound does occur from various causes, and that exact location of an object by sound may be impossible—still, it has been the ambition of the writer of this to establish the use of a code of fog-signals at sea designed to prevent collisions by indicating the course a vessel may be steering. At present, signals by sound between vessels in motion, indicating course, are given when they are each in sight,or at least when one discovers the proximity of the other. By the present code of signals they may indicate whether they will pass to the right or left of each other, and this is done by blowing one or two whistles to which the response is supposed to be favorable from the vessel signaled.

This code of signals may be good enough for every purpose when vessels are in sight, but gives at best very slight warning when vessels are approaching each other in fog or "thick weather." Something more is demanded as a warning of approach, and the more intelligible and informing this warning signal can be the better. It has been advocated that a signal indicating a vessel's course as being in either of the four quadrants of the compass—as between N. and E., E. and R., S. and W., W. and N.—or between N. W. and N. E., N. E. and S. E., S. E. and S. W., S. W. and N. W.—be indicated by 1, 2, 3, or 4 whistles, corresponding to the number of the quadrant. In every case the whistles to be short, but preceded by one long one.

A suggestion has also been made that a "tattoo" or multiple whistle be given to indicate "I have stopped—you may go ahead." Some such system as this might be comparatively useful; the only question to settle in this regard is. What is the best system devisable? In endeavoring to answer this question I have made use of the long and short signal, which can be, incidentally, represented ou a compass-card or otherwise by the dash and dot. These signals, given at intervals suitable to prevent confusion, will indicate any course on the compass, and can be read by sound as soon as they are in process of transmission. Opposite courses are indicated by opposite signals. N. and E. courses by one—and two long signals; S. and W., by one. and two. . short signals. Thus, as soon as the signal starts off, the navigator learns at once something of the direction, in a general way, soon to be particularized, in which a signaling vessel is moving, being thus enabled to avoid getting in the line of that motion, and so preventing collision. Actual experience tells us that navigators do locate approximately the position of ships by sound—of course with more accuracy by sight. When sight is unavailable, we must depend on sound.

Yours truly,
Frank M. Purinton.
Providence, R. I., May 1, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

During the recent Parliament at Washington, one point seems to have been clearly developed—viz., that women are no nearer the ballot-box than they were fifty years ago—and this despite the efforts of an earnest and loyal minority. The truth is, that the masses of American women do not care to vote, and this wide-spread, persistent indifference leads us to hope that, at no very distant date, the restless ghost of woman suffrage will at last be laid, to rise no more.

The word "equality" promises to be the next stumbling-block in the way of woman's real progress, and we can not but believe that the ladies who are acting in behalf of their sex are decidedly hasty and incautious in demanding, without limitations, "equal pay for equal work." At first sight, indeed, the proposal seems a fair one; and in art, literature, and latterly to a great extent in science, the equality of the sexes is unquestioned. But in the rough, every-day work of the world, where weakness means failure, strength success, where sentiment counts for nothing, and money-making is the paramount object, the matter is a very different one. That a woman can acquire the routine of almost any mercantile pursuit, may be admitted beyond a doubt; in fact, the quickness of her mind, and her rapid if superficial grasp of a subject, will give her the advantage, in many branches, over her brother workers. Despite the utmost reserve and discretion, however, a woman is an anomaly in a business office, among business men, in the unrelenting tide of business life. She may do her work as well as a man would, be as reliable, as faithful; but her presence is an inconvenience, a possible restraint, only to be counterbalanced by the cheapness of her labor. No man, who is worthy of the name, can quite bring himself to treat a woman clerk as he would a man, even in this ungallant age; but in this business warfare the small courtesies of life are necessarily neglected, and an employer who has expressed his disapprobation or impatience without much regard to his p's and q's, may be dismayed on finding that he has insulted a female; for the slow masculine mind does not yet understand that women mean to prefer equality to respect and consideration.

Then, what might be called the transitory nature of woman's work must be taken into consideration. It can not be taken for granted that every woman who has to make her living will be old, ugly, and uninteresting; therefore, marriage must be considered as a possible if not a probable interruption to her business career. Unless domestic life is to cease altogether, she retires from outdoor vocations to fulfill her household duties. A man, on the contrary, will feel it the more necessary to keep his position, and advance himself in his business. In the face of such contingencies, can an employer be expected to pay equal wages?

In conclusion, is it not too soon for women to demand anything of the other sex? Equality means competition; competition means a fierce and ungenerous battle, from which many a strong man emerges sorely wounded and unvictorious. Are women fitted to enter into such a contest as yet? Will it not be a long while before their nerves will be strong enough, their muscles hard enough, their feelings insensitive enough, to make the fight a fair one? Is not Nature, potent and inexorable, behind the artificialities of civilization, the real bar to feminine equality after all?

In the mean time, it would be more prudent in women, even those termed strong minded, not to scorn the protection of those of the other sex who are willing to protect them merely because they are women. And in their efforts for self-advancement and independence, let them rather ask aid, sympathy, and encouragement from their masculine fellow-workers, than demand an equality which the world is not willing to grant them, nor are they yet ready to receive.

Mrs. L. D. Morgan.
815 West Monument Street,
Baltimore, Md., May, 1888.