Page images

the Middle Ages. From the time of Archimedes to that of Galileo and Stevinus, no advance was made in that branch of it which had been first brought to the greatest perfection.

There is a want of true philosophy notable in the refusal to acknowledge the evidence of a superintending personal design and providence in the affairs of mankind, and in ignoring all signs of improvement in any but the times of the most recent history. Even M. Comte has recognised the fact that the earliest sense of human progression was inspired by the introduction of Christianity, and he could see how favourable the Catholic system of the Middle Ages was for conducting the work of civilization under the circumstances and conditions in which it was placeda work of such vast importance that it was enough to occupy the greatest intellects of the time, and to account for their leaving behind them no discoveries in science, and little literature, but only the institutions which they had been engaged in forming and sustaining. Over and over again M. Comte, who at least will not be considered a partial witness on this head, brings forward the claims of the Church on the gratitude of posterity, and points out the sources of civilization in the so-called dark ages.

Notwithstanding his depreciation of the results of literary exertion, it is solely for students and thinkers in their closets that Mr. Buckle has any sympathy. It is only the author of a work on political science, or the inventor of a system of a philosophy, who is allowed a niche in his temple of fame. But directly that a man appears on the stage of human action, he ceases to have any importance. He then degenerates into an ecclesiastic, a soldier, or a statesman, and becomes a helpless instrument in the hands of fate, or a simply obstructive and mischievous person, using what little power he has for the repression of knowledge and the retardation of improvement. According to this project of history, all soldiers and lawyers should at once become policeconstables; while for statesmen no higher function seems to be reserved than to become mere police inspectors and superintendents, and for divines it does not appear that any place whatever would be left. Mankind should resolve itself into one great society for the promotion of useful knowledge, and for the suppression of religion, government, and literature. There would be no more churches, no more courts, no more parliaments, and no more armies; no more poetry, no more affections or emotions, and no more art; and human civilization would be perfected in the most dreary, pedantic, unspiritual, and frigid Utopia of abstract intellect that was ever conceived. Some of the best and



Buckle's History of Civilization in England.


highest notions of the beneficence and wisdom of the Source of all law and the Giver of all good, are inseparable from the desire to see the mind of man employed in doing the material work that has been set before it, and in advancing his knowledge of all the riches of creation which have been provided for his

But it is madness to aim at the erection of an empire of human knowledge apart from the affections, and to suppose that man can hold his position, even on earth, merely by the exercise of his intellect, and without the sustaining support and grace of the Power which has placed him on it.

Mr. Buckle's work has been truly called the book of errors. To expose them all would require a volume bigger than his own, and we have no room to point out the astounding blunders he has committed in every branch of science upon which he has touched-in physiology, in comparative anatomy, in geology, and in chemistry. He has not even acquired the elements of these and other subjects upon which he ventures to speak with the tone of a master. The very books he cites show how limited have been his studies, for many of his authorities are of no authority whatever, while the real lights of science are frequently not mentioned at all. We must not,' says Mr. Buckle, quoting from Descartes, 'pass judgment upon any subject which we do not clearly and distinctly understand; for even if such a judgment is correct, it can only be so by accident, not having solid ground on which to support itself.' If Mr. Buckle had acted upon this maxim, his volume would never have been written. He has pronounced confident opinions upon more topics than the ablest man could compass in the longest life, and the marvel is not that he should have fallen into egregious errors, but that he should fancy himself competent to teach where he has almost everything to learn. As he thinks with the same impatience and discursiveness that he reads, he sees only a small part of any question, and there probably never was a work published which made equal pretensions, and exhibited in the same compass so many erroneous statements, so many hasty generalisations from a few imperfect data, or so many shallow and contradictory views.



Art. III.-1. A Comprehensive History of the Iron Trade. By

Harry Scrivenor. London, 1841. 2. The Theory, Practice, and Architecture of Bridges of Stone,

Iron, Timber, and Wire; with Examples on the Principle of

Suspension. London, 1843-1853. 3. Iron Bridges. (Article in the "Encyclopædia Britannica.')

Edinburgh, 1857. 4. Traité Théorétique et Pratique de la Construction des Ponts

Métalliques. Par MM. L. Molinos et C. Pronnier, Ingénieurs

Civils." Paris, 1857. 5. A Practical Treatise on Cast and Wrought Iron Bridges and

Girders. By W. Humber, C.E. London, 1857. 6. Grand Trunk Railway of Canada-Correspondence and Reports

on the Victoria Bridge. 1855-6. 7. Boyd's Marine Viaduct, or Continental Railway Bridge between

England and France. 1858.
FRANCIS HORNER once observed, after inspecting a steel

manufactory, that 'Iron is not only the soul of every other manufacture, but the mainspring perhaps of civilized society.' Jobn Locke even went so far as to aver that notwithstanding man's extraordinary advancement in knowledge, we should in a few ages, “were the use of iron lost among us, be unavoidably reduced to the wants and ignorance of the ancient savage Americans: so that he who first made known the use of that contemptible mineral, may be truly styled the father of arts and author of plenty.' Nor will this view be deemed extravagant, if we reflect that but for iron man would be virtually without tools, since it is almost the only metal capable of taking a sharp edge and keeping it. Of the various definitions of man by pbilosophers, not the least forcible is that of tool-making animal, for with tools he tills the ground, builds dwellings, makes clothes, prints books, constructs roads, manufactures steam-engines, and carries on the whole material business of civilization, on which its very highest developments in a great measure depend.

Perhaps the most curious and interesting museum of antiquities ever collected is that formed by M. Worsaae at Copenhagen, in which the remarkable parallelism in the advances made in civilization and in working in metals, has been illustrated by articles gathered from ancient burying-places. From these remains it appears that, in the first instance, the only tools of man were sharpened stones, such as are still found in use amongst savage tribes, and which are insufficient to enable him to till the ground, or build, or carve, If he felled a tree, and hollowed out

a canoe


canoe from its trunk, he had to summon fire to his aid. He could only gather a precarious subsistence by hunting or fishing, using a flint head for his arrows and crooked bones for fish-hooks. The skins with which he covered himself were joined together by thongs or skewers ; and anything like domestic comfort could not exist, for the construction of a dwelling was as yet impracticable. This first stage of man's primeval history M. Worsaae designates “The Stone Period.' Copper, which is found in such a state of comparative purity as to require very little smelting to fit it for use, preceded the discovery of iron, which in its native state looks more like a stone than a metal. The progress of man was now inore decided, especially after the art of hardening the copper by admixture with tin had been acquired, when various tools and weapons of bronze were fabricated. Tillage could now be practised, trees could be cut down, and houses and boats built. M. Worsaae designates this “The Bronze Period.' During the same epoch, as is curiously illustrated by the Copenhagen collection, gold was well known and highly prized for its beauty. But the utility of gold to man was always very small compared with that of iron, which was the metal next discovered. There was not an art but felt the impulse given to it by the improvement of tools which was immediately effected. The first to profit was the art of war, bows and arrows being shortly supplanted by muskets and cannon. But the beneficent uses of this metal were more extensively experienced in the various branches of peaceful industry—in agriculture, in architecture, in shipbuilding, and in manufactures of all kinds.

The superiority of this metal over all others consists in the vast number of purposes to which it can be advantageously applied, and the various modifications of which it is susceptible in the process of manufacture. There is no other metal which could be so worked up as to serve equally well for a needle and as shot for a ninety-eight-pounder gun; as a surgeon's lancet and a five-ton Nasmyth tilt hammer; as the spring of a watch the size of a shilling, and the hull of a Leviathan steamship; and which is alike indispensable in the construction of a pair of scissors and an electric telegraph, a steel pen and a railroad, a mariner's compass and a tubular bridge. The iron machines of our manufacturers are driven by the iron steamengines of Watt, and their products are distributed over iron railroads by the iron locomotives of Stephenson. Intelligence is telegraphed to and from the ends of the earth by means of the iron wire. Our Crystal Palaces are built of glass framed in iron. We have iron roofs, iron houses, iron churches, iron bedsteads,

iron lighthouses, iron ships, iron palaces, and iron bridges. In short, we now seem to be in the very midst of M. Worsaae's Iron Age.'

Although the iron industry of Great Britain may be pronounced indigenous, by reason of the juxtaposition of coal, ironstone, lime, strong men, and cheap transit—a combination not yet known to exist in the same perfection in any other country in the world—it is only of comparatively late years that the manufacture has assumed its present gigantic magnitude. So long as the ore was smelted by means of charcoal made from wood, the produce of the metal was very limited, and its price excessive. The manufacture was for some time partially prohibited in England, the consumption of wood charcoal in the process of smelting being so great as to create apprehensions that if care were not taken of the remaining forests, enough timber would not be left to supply the wants of the royal and mercantile navy. Hence acts were passed in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, forbidding the felling of timber for the smelting of iron, except in certain districts of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, then the principal seats of the manufacture, and even there the erection of new works was expressly forbidden. These enactments had the effect of greatly checking the manufacture, which shortly ceased in the southern counties, the last iron forged in Kent having been the rails round St. Paul's Cathedral, which were cast at Lamberhurst, about the beginning of last century.

Attention was then directed to the smelting of ironstone by means of pit coal. Large stores of both these minerals existed side by side in the midland counties. Amongst others Lord Dudley gallantly struggled to establish a manufactory in the neighbourhood of Stourbridge, and partially succeeded; but what with riots among the iron workers, who broke into and destroyed his works, and the wars of the Great Rebellion, which ruined his fortunes, the noble lord reaped no advantage from his enterprise. Nothing contributed to arrest the decline in this branch of trade, and towards the middle of last century the number of furnaces, which in James I.'s reign had amounted to 300, fell off to 59, the principal part of the iron consumed in England being imported from foreign countries. The partial use of pit-coal in the process of smelting was revived at Coalbrookdale, in Shropshire, about 1713. The chief difficulty was to keep the coal in a state of combustion sufficiently intense for the purpose of smelting the ore; the hand-worked bellows, or the more powerful water-movement, which produced blast enough for charcoal, having comparatively little effect upon coal. This obstacle was finally overcome through the perse


« PreviousContinue »