Imatges de pÓgina
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the world have been ushered in by some great scientific invention or discovery. Thus gunpowder, in the middle ages, broke the barbed ranks of the feudal aristocracy, and revolutionized the whole system of war. The art of printing sapped the foundations of the Church of Rome, and extended the domain of thought. The mariner's compass led to the discovery of a new continent. But it is in the age in which we live, characterised as it is by its political and economical spirit of reform, that a new principle, a novum organum, has been introduced, the most powerful yet ever wielded by man—we allude to the steam-engine.

To this country, above all others, the steam-engine has procured immense advantages. If for twenty years we have been enabled to carry on a war against civilized Europe; if we have been able to sustain the enormous burden of our national debt, it is because we have had at our disposition the pridigious resources of our industry, seconded by this new agent, which we were the first to possess.

On the other side of the Atlantic, applied to navigation, it has enabled a nation, in the noon-tide of youth and political energy (but barely numbering twelve millions of inhabitants), to develope, with a rapidity perfectly unparalleled in the annals of the world, the immense resources of a territory almost equal in extent to the European continent. But the most important application of the power of steam is of a more recent date; it is the revival of the old invention of carriages propelled by the power of steam on railroads of iron.

" Imagination,” says a French writer of celebrity, “is dazzled in contemplating the operation of this invention on the future destinies of man ;-one that gives to him the faculty of moving with the rapidity of the eagle-a land conveyance, at once less dangerous, less uncertain, less expensive, and more expeditious than any other with which he has hitherto been acquainted. By means of this communication every country may henceforth, from its very centre, distribute equally over its surface the necessaries of life and the raw materials of industry; its scattered population will contract a thousand new relations, mutually assist each other, and, by the most simple combinations, a continual interchange of the commodities of the most distant countries will be as easily established as between two neighbouring cities. In fact, by means of railroads every nation will henceforth possess the faculty of rendering invasions impossible, of doubling their population and their prosperity, and of diminishing in equa ratio their public burdens. *But let us not,” he adds, “ confine our consideration of this invention to the simple establishment of a communication between a mineral district and the nearest river, or between a manufacturing town and a neighbouring sea-port; but let us suppose the whole country possessing a complete system of railroads, diverging from the capital, as a common centre, to every part of the frontiers.

“Now, the most important object of transportation, whether considered commercially or politically, is undoubtedly man himself. A machine that would save five-sixths of the time and expense, and nine-tenths of the trouble and fatigue, of our present mode of locomotion, would certainly work a complete change in the aspect of a country; for with what rapidity and ease might the merchants of the sca-ports visit the interior, and vice versâ those of the interior the sea-coast. In fact, how numerous the advantages it would offer to every class of society—to all those who travel either for health, or pleasure, or instruction! If, again, to these we add the further advantages of a rapid circulation of letters and newspapers, we may, without any great stretch of the imagination, form an accurate idea of the magnificent results of this mighty operation."

There is, doubtless, in this view of the subject, much that is just and correct, but, taken in its ensemble, it is the dream of a heated imagination, the fata morgana of the mind, which, if only partially attainable, would, towards the close of the present century, substantially realize that earliest dream of poetry, “the Golden Age." But feverish as is the speculation that prevailsteeming as do the daily prints, both here and on the Continent, with notices of lines of railroads in every direction, and plans recommending nothing less than to make them general throughout the kingdom-we much doubt if that time will ever arrive when this, or any other country, shall possess a complete system of railroads, extending from the capital to every point of the frontier, like so many radii from the centre of a circle to its circumference. Difficult as it is for human sagacity to predict in what manner the complicated relations of society may be affected by any particular discovery in the moral or physical world, yet we venture to pronounce that the operation of railroads on the moral, physical, and intellectual condition of the people of this country, to be one fraught with consequences that require considerable caution ; nor is the sudden and wholesale adoption of such conveyances so advisable as the prospectuses of speculators would lead us to believe.

It is not a little singular that this invention, the subject at the present moment of so much feverish excitement, should have hitherto acted only as an accessory to the mode of communication it seems destined to supersede, viz. canals—and that, while the secret of this invention was known fully a century ago, and already in full operation at Merthyr Tydvil, in Wales, the whole surface of the country should have been intersected with canals, while the railroad should have languished in oblivion, and should at length be brought forward at a period when their operations may admit of some question as to the extent of their benefit to society. It would have been fortunate if, at that period, railroads had been generally adopted instead of canals; their probable effect on the present state of the country affords food for much curious speculation. Considered in the abstract as a mode of conveyance, none other can compete with them. Besides speed, they possess the further desideratum of certainty, and, unlike the canal, are unaffected by atmospheric changes; and, although no accurate estimates can be made of their comparative cost, because both must depend upon circumstances always varying, and which can seldom be common to both ; yet we may say that the cost of the canal, supposing them to run through the same line of country, is greater than that of the railroad by nearly one third. But it is rather relatively than abstractedly, that we are now led to consider this question--one in which every class of the community is deeply concerned ; for it is not, in its successful application, so flattering to the mathematical vanity of the engineer-or, in the high rate of returns on the capital invested, so captivating to the feelings of the shareholder-but in its operation on the social system, in its most extended signification, that the true political economist will estimate the utility of the invention. We live in an age in which the dominion of man over physical nature is daily and hourly extended by the genius of our artists; and yet, strange to say, the social condition of the mass of our population degenerates in an inverse ratio.

This is the theme of daily observation, while the cause, which appears to elude the grasp of philosophic research, lies much nearer the surface than is generally imagined. The fact is, our chemical and mechanical discoveries have advanced faster than is consistent with the welfare of society; or, in other words, the moral culture of the species has not kept pace with the increase of its material power--the equilibrium has been destroyed. Hence the fruitful source of evil; an evil which immediate and general introduction of railroads, by suddenly and to such an extent diminishing the demand for human labour, will increase to a hundredfold.

Let us, therefore, calmly examine the working of this system on the very narrow field that it yet presents to our observation. Previous to the establishment of the railways between Manchester and Liverpool, the communication between the two towns was carried on by a turnpike road and by two canals. On the former there were from thirty to forty stage-coaches, besides carts, waggons, and other conveyances. On the latter it was computed that the quantity of merchandise passing daily between these two places amounted to 1000 tons, the freight of which produced the annual sum of £300,000, two-thirds of which fell to the share of the Marquis of Stafford. Now, by the report of the Railroad Committee, it appears that the returns upon the capital invested amounts to eight per cent.; from this, however, mnst be deducted the value of the property destroyed—viz. the turnpike-road; still, as the railroad has not been found to diminish the traffic hitherto carried on by the canals, in this instance the railroad system may be said to have been successfully and beneficially applied. But, however successful may have been the results of this first scheme, it is comparatively upon a small scale ; and the question is now, whether from such data an argument can be found of sufficient strength to justify their unlimited adoption throughout the country. We are the last in the world to offer a check to the advance of the age; but when the whole social relations of the country are staked on the hazard of a die—when the destinies of a country seem about to be wielded by speculations, it becomes the duty of those that think at least to offer the result of such thought to their fellow-countrymen; and in this, we repeat-let us not be mistaken

our object is to inculcate caution, but not distrust.

One great principle, as applicable to the whole system, has been fully established, and that is, the practicability of the application of steam to the purposes of locomotion ; and, further, that the application of this power affords those grand desiderata in travelling--safety and expedition. But it is not'enough to show that they can convey goods and passengers at an accelerated rate; it must also be proved that the quantity of goods and the number of passengers that may reasonably be expected to be carried along the proposed line will be so great as to meet the annual expenses incidental to it, and at the same time yield an adequate remuneration for the outlay of capital; and, further, that the existing means of conveyance are inadequate to the purposes they profess to answer; that the establishment of railroads is imperiously called for by the wishes and wants of the country through which it will pass, as well as of the towns at its extremities; and that the advantages to be derived will more than counterbalance the evil it will occasion. All this must be proved, otherwise it will be only creating a new species of property at the expense of the old ; for one of the first effects of this new system of communication will be to occasion a violent change in the value of property in some instances, and total destruction in others. We believe that it will be readily admitted that the towns and villages situated upon the line of a great road derive much of their prosperity from that circumstance; and, therefore, property is more valuable in those places than in others less fortunately circumstanced. Now, the effect of a railroad will be to deprive these towns of the advantages they now enjoy ; in other words, to diminish the value of

in precisely the same ratio as it was previously increased, by taking away all the traffic and travelling therein. In opposition to this argument, we know that it will be urged that other property along the proposed line of railway will become val

the property

uable in a corresponding degree, and that the mischief which will accrue from the depreciation of property in one place will be more than counterbalanced by its increase in another. Now, supposing this were susceptible of a demonstration, it would even then be a matter deserving serious consideration, whether, unless for the purpose of obtaining some immense advantages, such a change in the property of the country in its present condition would be advisable.

In the first place, it would greatly diminish the value of the agricultural produce of the country, by reducing the demand for horse-power.

Secondly. By throwing a numerous class of men, who at present earn their subsistence by that means and by the present mode of travelling, out of employ, not only a great mass of social misery would be the consequence, but the burdens of the country, in the shape of poor-rates, greatly increased.

Thirdly. They are demoralizing in their effects, from their tendency to concentrate the population of the country in large towns. We are aware that what has been alleged, with regard to the value of property, may with equal justice be adduced in the second instance that men thrown out of one species of labour would soon find employment in other channels which this new system of communication would create. This is the favourite theory of the political economist; but, after all, it is but a theory-and a heartless one-the practicable application of which none but an enthusiast would ever dream of seeing successfully realized in a country where the price of labour is so closely graduated upon the means of subsistence, that the intervention of one day's labour brings the unfortunate artizan to the verge of starvation. There is no class of men whose labours have been more fatal to the prosperity of England than the modern political economists; they fondly imagine it possible to reduce the laws of their science to simple geometrical propositions, equally applicable to every country on the face of the globe. But this axiom of modern philosophy, when too late, has been discovered to be an absurd ideality ; and men are now slowly convincing themselves that every country must possess a system founded upon its own peculiar and inherent circumstances. Thus it is that their favourite theory, in this country at least, is found to be glaringly false in its practical application. With all our colonial outlets, notwithstanding our prodigious industry, we behold on every side more labourers than can find employment-more artificers than can earn a scanty subsistence ; and where there is scarcely trade sufficient for the support of one tradesman, it is competed for by five or six. If facility of communication alone were sufficient to contribute to the material comforts of a people, what country in the world can be compared with our own? Why not attempt to improve our present hydrogra

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