« PreviousContinue »
vestryman has the upper hand, they have stood shivering for years upon the brink of electric lighting or traction, but do not take decisive action. In spite of the evidence that a well-designed corporation electric supply station invariably pays its working expenses in two years, there are towns and places in which the pros and cons of electric lighting have been a source of dispute for many years before the progressive party has carried the day. At the present moment there are 113 towns and districts in which the Local Authority has obtained from the Board of Trade a Provisional Order for the supply of electric energy, but where nothing is being done to proceed with the work. The authority will not act itself and prevents any company acting for it.
A more important question is their action in regard to the supply of electric energy in bulk, as it is called.
The production and distribution of electric current over large areas from favourably situated centres would enable electric energy to be supplied in many cases at a cost far below that at which it is now retailed for light and power by the municipal authorities in most towns.
In face of foreign competition in manufacture, and the important question of coal supply, cheap electricity for motive power and chemical purposes will become one of the chief factors in enabling British manufacturers to hold their own; as well as in improving the conditions of life in great cities. Yet the early schemes for such wholesale manufacture of electric current have met with fierce opposition from town councils affected, their antagonism being based upon a fear that their own particular electric supply service might be undersold. Private businesses have to take all the risks of injury by competition or improvements, and the fittest survive; but when a municipal corporation goes into business with a capital borrowed on its rates, its tendency is to oppose all progress which may conflict with its own immediate profits, and to cry out for a protection to municipal trading not granted to private enterprise.
One answer, therefore, that is suggested to the question why electrical invention goes slowly in Great Britain is, that the legislation of the last thirty years has put the control of its results largely into the hands of imperial and municipal officials. Bureaucratic operations are slow, cautious, and not distinguished by much prevision. Genius among the permanent officials of governing bodies is rare, and to make new and successful advances in invention or administration requires a touch of genius. Hence a quick appreciation of fresh requirements and how best to meet them is not so much their characteristic as slow progression in old grooves. We are entering on an age which may veritably be an age of ether.' Wireless telegraphy threatens to revolutionise our means of electric communication, and wireless transmission of power is by no means an
empty dream. It is within the bounds of possibility to transmit electric power without wires through miles of space. What will be the attitude of municipal authorities towards the electric transmission of power in bulk without wires from coalfield to city?
The progress of electrical invention can, however, only be secured by giving the capitalist and investor a fair field for legitimate operations in conjunction with the inventor and business organiser. If Necessity is proverbially the mother of Invention, Capital may with justice be called its father. Industrial invention does not consist in evolving a few hazy ideas, however brilliant, but in working out— often at great preliminary expense, and with repeated failure-the details of some new process, and finally establishing a new manufacture or art.
This pioneer work is most properly undertaken by private enterprise. No doubt the gross abuses of the Joint Stock Companies Acts and the principle of limited liability have led to reactions and waste of capital, but the proper remedy for this is a wise legislation controlling company promotion, and not an unwise legislation hindering important electrical industries. Capital will not flow persistently towards undertakings in which it runs the risk of loss, and the greater risk of commercial enterprises, and their frequently long non-dividend-paying periods must be compensated by something more in the way of interest than the standard 3 per cent. But if Capital turns its face away from any application of science, Invention soon ceases to look in the same direction, and seeks a more congenial region of activity.
The influence of primary and secondary education on the originative and inventive faculty of a nation is a subject in itself, and can hardly be discussed in a few lines. It is a coincidence that the British Government in 1870 not only purchased the telegraphs for 10,000,000l. sterling, but passed an Elementary Education Act (Mr. Forster's) under which much more has been spent. There have been some heart-searchings lately whether the results of that Act have been all that was hoped or desired. Perhaps the whole system of primary education is at fault. The child mind is educated' chiefly by learning by rote; small doses of science are also administered; but the full and careful training of the observational and creative faculties is still greatly neglected. In secondary schools too much attention is paid to words and the grammar of dead or living languages. Natural and experimental science takes a second place. It is feared that the tendency of much so-called Technical Education is the manufacture of mediocrities rather than the expert training of experts by experts to the highest possible efficiency.
There has been lately a multiplication of technical institutions, and most large towns have a Municipal Technical College, and a Municipal Technical Education Committee; but the idea is far too
prevalent that by some flourishing evening classes and popular science lectures we are successfully grappling with the problem of technical education. Meanwhile many of our higher colleges of university rank are crippled in their applied science faculties by want of laboratory accommodation, or funds to support higher teaching and research. What is required is not more abundant mediocrity, but a fully sufficient opportunity of training those who will be captains of industry. The persons who need technical education are the masters, much more than the men. In the terrible contest for commercial supremacy with the United States and Germany, towards which this country is advancing, nothing will avail us unless the young men who are to be masters of works, foremen, heads of departments, and directors of industries based on applications of scientific knowledge, are equipped with the most thorough knowledge of the arts they direct. The law of evolution will mercilessly eliminate the unfit.
In preparations to meet this danger, provincial towns are more advanced than London. The younger universities in Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool are organising in earnest. London is still disgracefully behind the times. This is largely due to the entire absence of local patriotism in London. Few men living or making their fortunes in the Strand, St. Pancras, or Finsbury care a rap whether the constituent colleges of the University of London in these districts are in opulence or poverty, in full effective work, or hindered by a load of debt. They are not proud to assist the cause of education or scientific research in the city in which they work, nor do they consider there is any obligation on them to do so.
That the question of a Teaching University for London took so long to settle was a national disgrace. Even now the proper organisation of its technical side will be a work of time. Meanwhile London has nothing to compare with the Berlin Technische Hochschule with its 5,000 students and a teaching staff of professors, assistants, and workmen numbered by hundreds.
Hence if electrical invention is not to languish in Great Britain, some reforms seem necessary. Public opinion must be brought to bear more strongly through the Press and Parliament upon the administration of Imperial and Local Governmental Departments which are in the practical control of electrical monopolies. The conduct of municipal bodies to new electrical enterprises must be continually criticised. A stronger public opinion must be created on the value and immense national importance of scientific research and invention. Professor Perry has recently emphasised this necessity in an eloquent address to the Institution of Electrical Engineers. All electrical inventions are based upon a scientific knowledge of the facts of Nature. One object of scientific research is to provide the necessary exact information which lies at the root of successful appli
cations in the arts. The late Professor Huxley once declared that if a young Faraday could be purchased in the open market for the price of a first-class battleship, the purchase would be a bargain. For all we know he may be had for nothing, but we must first make an environment suitable to foster inventive genius, and not permit it to be repressed by educational or legislative conditions.
J. A. FLEMING.
MOULVIE RAFIÜDDIN AHMAD AND
'THE SOURCES OF ISLAM'
TO THE EDITOR OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
SIR,-In his severe condemnation of Sir William Muir for venturing to write a favourable review of a recently published Persian work of mine, entitled The Sources of Islâm, Moulvie Rafiüddin Ahmad has made one or two slight mistakes, which he will perhaps permit me to point out to your readers-if that can be done without producing the 'serious political and administrative troubles' with which he threatens Sir W. Muir and the English nation generally
In the first place, the Moulvie makes it abundantly evident that he has never even seen the book which he is discussing. He confounds this Persian work, published at Lahore very recently (as Sir W. Muir in his article 2 correctly stated) with quite a different English book of mine, published (as the Moulvie is right in stating) in London in 1895. As the Moulvie knows nothing-on his own admission of the work he is supposed to be discussing, it is not surprising that his attempt to answer it cannot be regarded as a great success. In fact, he does not deal at all fully with a single point raised in the book, not even with those mentioned by Sir W. Muir. Nor are the methods he adopts those generally used in this country. The Moulvie takes the last few pages of another book of mine, The Religion of the Crescent, and, I regret to have to say, deliberately misquotes them by suppressing a passage which shows the purport of the work to be exactly contrary to what he strives to make it out to be. This suppressio veri is a distinct and unmistakable suggestio falsi. The Moulvie represents me, by his peculiar method of 'quotation,' as being so unutterably mad and foolish as to urge the English nation to make war on Muhammadan lands for the purpose of forcibly converting their inhabitants. He then inquires:
Does England conquer countries to make them Christian? One can see the beginning of the flame of which Lord Salisbury spoke in such publications as the
1 Vide Nineteenth Century and After for January, 1901, pp. 77 sqq.