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It is wholly impossible to calculate the quantity of labor economized by all the machinery which the steam engine puts in motion. Mr. Baines * states, that the spinning machinery of Great Britain, tended by one hundred and fifty thousand workmen, “produces as much yarn as could have been produced by FORTY MILLIONS OF MEN with the one-thread wheel !” Dr. Buckland remarks, that it has been supposed that “the amount of work now done by machinery in England is equivalent to that of between three and four hundred millions of men by direct labor." +
This prodigious economy and accumulation of power, effected by the mechanic arts, are occupied in supplying the wants and promoting the comfort of man. When, therefore, the ingenious artisan makes an improvement in a useful machine, he economizes labor, creates power, accumulates usefulness, and promotes the progress of civilization. I doubt not, if it were possible to write the secret history of the mechanic arts, (if I may so express myself,) — 10 trace the most important manufactures and machines through their various stages to their origin, — to show how, by the addition of a spring here, a cog there, a knee-joint in this place, a perpetual screw in that, or a system of these powers, the most complicated engines have been brought from the humblest beginnings to their present condition, — it would appear that a single mechanical improvement had often had the effect of adding thousands and tens of thousands of horse power and man power to the productive energy of the community. The astonishment and admiration with which we should survey the wonders of modern machinery, are impaired by not knowing, more generally than the mass of men can know, the stages through which it has passed, and the mental efforts which have been expended in improving it. There is an untold, probably an unimagined amount of human talent, — of high mental power,
- locked up among the wheels and springs of the machinist; a force of intellect of the loftiest character has been required to make this
* Baines's History of the Cotton Manufacture, p. 362. | Buckland's Geology and Mineralogy, Vol. I. p. 400.
department of human pursuit what it is. This stunning din, this monotonous rattle, this tremendous power, and the quiet, steady force of these humble, useful, familiar arts, result from efforts of the mind, kindred with those which have charmed or instructed the world with the richest strains of poetry, eloquence, and philosophy.
These improvements have sometimes been long delayed, and art, for ages, has been stationary; and then, by the happy development of some mechanical contrivance, it has made boundless progress in an age. It is not yet, I believe, more than two or three centuries, since the only mode of spinning known was by the rock and spindle. The simple spinning-wheel, moved by the hand, and which was thought, in the times of our grand-parents, to show a graceful form and a well-turned arm to nearly as much advantage as a harp at the present day, and to make a music almost as cheerful, is at once an obsolete and a modern invention. The Greeks and Romans are said to have been unacquainted with the spinning-wheel. The monarch's heavy purple and the nymph's airy tissue were alike manufactured by twirling the distaff, and drawing out a thread with the fingers ; —and no improvement was made on this tedious process, in Great Britain, before the fifteenth century. It is evident that much more "labor must have been requisite, with this rude machinery, to supply the indispensable article of clothing, than with the modern improvements. The introduction of the spinning-wheel produced a great economy of this labor ; but the introduction of the spinning and weaving machinery of the last century, has pushed this economy to an extent, which it is in vain to attempt to calculate it.
This economy operates, first, to multiply the comforts of the existing population, and then, by necessary consequence, to increase the population capable of subsisting in a given circuit. Yes, the man who, in the infancy of the arts, invented the saw or the plane, the grindstone, the vice, or the hand-mill; and those who, in later periods, have contributed to the wonderful system of modern machinery, are entitled to rank high among the benefactors of mankind, the fathers of civilization, - the creators, I had almost said, of nations. No, it is not the
fabulous wand of the enchanter, it is the weaver's beam, and instruments like it, which call thousands and tens of thousands into being. Mind, acting through the useful arts, is the vital principle of modern civilized society. The mechanician, not the magician, is now the master of life. He kindles the fires of his steam engine, - the rivers, the lakes, the ocean, are covered with flying vessels ; mighty chainpumps descend, clanking and groaning, to the deepest abysses of the coal mine, and rid them of their deluging waters; and spindles and looms ply their task as if instinct with life. It is the necromancy of the creative machinist. In a moment a happy thought crosses his imagination, - an improvement is conceived. Some tedious process can be superseded by a chemical application, as in the modern art of bleaching. Some necessary result can be attained, in half the time, by a new mechanical contrivance; — another wheel
a ratchet screw will effect the object; he tries a few experiments; it will succeed; it is done. He stamps his foot, and a hundred thousand men start into being ; not, like those which sprang from the fabled dragon's teeth, armed with the weapons of destruction, but furnished with every implement for the service and comfort of man. It is stated by James Watt, (before whose time the steam engine was an imperfect and inefficient machine, that the moment the notion of " separate condensation” struck him, all the other details of his improved engine followed in rapid and immediate succession, so that, in the course of a day, his invention was so complete that he proceeded to submit it to experiment.* Could that day be identified, it would well deserve an anniversary celebration by the universal tribes of civilized man.
I have said that mind, acting through the mechanic arts, is the vital principle of modern civilized society. I would be the last to undervalue the importance of moral and intellectual influences, or to
* Lardner's Popular Lectures on the Steam Engine, p. 61. Dr. Lardner, in the context of the passage above quoted, speaks of the notion of “ separate condensation" as the "happy conception which formed the first step of that brilliant career which has immortalized the name of Watt, and which has spread his fame to the very skirts of civilization."
seem to give undeserved countenance to the mechanical tendency of the age. On the contrary, I look upon the intellectual and moral influence of the useful arts, as the most important aspect, in which the subject can be contemplated. The immediate result of every improvement in these arts, as has been already stated, often is, and always might and should be, by making less labor and time necessary for the supply of human wants, to raise the standard of comfortable living, — increase the quantity of leisure time applicable to the culture of the mind, — and thus promote the intellectual and moral progress of the mass of the community. That this is the general tendency of a progress
in the useful arts, no one can doubt, who compares the present condition of the world with its condition in the middle ages; and the fact is confirmed by the history of single inventions. I have already spoken of alphabetical writing. Pliny remarks of the Egyptian reed, (the first material of which paper was made,) that on this reed rested the immortality of man. The thought, though savoring of heathenism in the expression, is just. This single art of alphabetical writing was a step absolutely essential in the moral and intellectual progress of our race. To speak of the art of printing, in its connection with morals and mind, would be as superfluous as it would be difficult to do justice to the topic. Its history is not so much an incident as the summary of modern civilization. — Vast as the influence of this art of arts has been, it may well be doubted whether improvements will not yet be made, in the mechanism connected with it, which will incalculably increase its efficiency. If I mistake not, the trumpet-voice of Truth from this machine is yet destined to reach to distances and depths of society, which have hitherto remained unexplored and neglected.
Again, in reference to the intimate connection of the useful and mechanic arts with intellectual progress, let us but advert for a moment to the mariner's compass, the telescope, the quadrant. For myself, I never reflect upon their influence on the affairs of man, and remember that they are, after all, merely mechanical contrivances, without emotions of admiration bordering upon awe.
This sentiment, I
know, is so worn away by habit, that it seems almost to run into sentimentality. But let us not be ashamed to reproduce the emotions that spring from the freshness of truth and nature. What must not have been Galileo's feelings when he pointed the first telescope to the heavens, and discovered the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter ! When I behold the touched needle trembling to the pole, when I know that, beneath the utter blackness of the midnight storm, when every star in heaven is quenched, and the laboring vessel, in mid-ocean, reels like a drunken man on the crested top of the mighty waves, that little bar of steel will guide the worn and staggering helmsman on his way, - I feel that there is a holy philosophy in the arts of life, which, if I cannot comprehend, I can reverence.
Consider the influence on the affairs of men, in all their relations, of the invention of the little machine which I hold in my hands; and the other modern instruments for the measurement of time, various specimens of which are on exhibition in the halls. To say nothing of the importance of an accurate measurement of time in astronomical observations, - nothing of the application of timekeepers to the purposes of navigation, - how vast must be the aggregate effect on the affairs of life, throughout the civilized world, and in the progress of ages, of a convenient and portable apparatus for measuring the lapse of time!- Who can calculate in how many of those critical junctures when affairs of weightiest import hang upon the issue of an hour, Prudence and Forecast have triumphed over blind Casualty, by being enabled to measure with precision the Aight of time, in its smallest subdivisions ! Is it not something more than mere mechanism, which watches with us by the sick-bed of some dear friend, through the livelong solitude of night, enables us to count, in the slackening pulse, nature's trembling steps toward recovery, and to administer the prescribed remedy at the precise, perhaps the critical, moment of its application ? By means of a watch, punctuality in all his duties, - which, in its perfection, is one of the incommunicable attributes of Deity,- is brought, in no mean measure, within the reach of man. He is enabled, if he will be guided