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Tue Frest TIME, AND THE LAST Way, of ASKING,
HOME AND SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY.
The Work of the World.
W HO does the work of the world? We have a faint
y suspicion that the “ decisive battles” which have had the strongest influence upon the character of nations or the fortunes of the human race, were not fought amid shouts, needed no swords, and never killed more than the few solitary stragglers who have wasted life and fortune in pursuit of knowledge. Often the truths, or facts, pursued, appear so small that the folks may say, “No wonder their discovery goes unrewarded.” Of things, however, that concern the common mind of man, no truth can pose sibly be small. Setting aside the mere personal accidents which can interest only the individual or his immediate neighbors, every new fact is a battle won. And very small facts-small we are apt to call them—are the fruit of intellectual battles, as decisive in the history of man as Issus or Waterloo. The historic value of a single battle we are apt enormously to overrate, because it is too much the practice to consider the human race in history not as one whole, but as an assemblage of conflicting interests.
We have our favorite nations and our hated nations ; our good and bad genii. When a battle occurs, the good genius must overcome, and we say, if things respond to our desire, “O, it is well for us that those bad folks were beaten, for had they been triumphant, where should we all have been ?" We ask that question, feeling conscious of an answer; but it is one to which no answer can be given. Few races were more unpromising than the Ugrians, those wild and ugly Asiatic savages, whose deeds among the Scandinavian forests gained for them a nursery immortality. Where are the “Ogres” now? They won for themselves ground in Europe, and settling there, have become handsome in person, generous in mind, and are known to us in
England as a kindred people, the Magyars of Hungary. : Then, again, after all, the highest purpose of a battle is to preserve the predominance of an advanced over a backward civilization. If there be any apology for wars beyond the one just plea of self-defence, it is because the soldier preserves that which the scientific man produces. Now we have certainly a Koh-i-noor, but we are apt to see more of the cage than of the diamond.
An illustration lies close at our hand, which may be found enlarged upon in Liebig's Letters. Both soap and glass are absolutely necessaries in a civilized community; for the manufacturer of both, soda is necessary. On account of both these articles, much capital has for a long time been invested. The wealth and refinement of a nation may be fairly tested by the extent to which it considers cleanliness a necessary duty; by the amount of the collective soap bill. Now, soda, once upon a time, was dear. It was imported into France from Spain, at an annual cost of twenty to thirty millions of francs. During the war with England, it was of course the duty of this country to impede the commerce of its enemies. The price of soda, therefore (and consequently that of soap and glass), rose continually, and all manufactures suffered..
In this emergency, Le Blanc, at the end of the last century, discovered a method of making soda from common salt. For the discovery, Napoleon had, in fact, offered a premium. It was of great value to France during the war; nevertheless, the promised premium was never paid. There were so many debts of honor due to the gay-coated gentry, that it was impossible to bear in mind a debt of justice to Le Blanc. A method was discovered, then, by which common salt (chloride of sodium) could be converted into carbonate of soda. Well, you may say, that was a small fact; now, show me whether you can prove it to be worth a battle of Blenheim.
Worth a battle of that kind, however—worth it-we should scarcely say; for can there be any parallel between the advantage to mankind of receiving a gift, and the honor of suffering a robbery? However, let us follow out the train of consequences which succeed Le Blanc's discovery. “To prepare carbonate of soda from common salt,” says Liebig, “it is first converted into Glauber's salt (sulphate of soda). For this purpose eighty pounds' weight of concentrated sulphuric acid (oil of vitriol) are required to one hundred pounds of common salt. The duty upon salt checked, for a short time, the full advantage of this discovery; but when the British Government repealed the duty, and its price was reduced to its minimum, the cost of soda depended upon that of sulphuric acid.
“ The demand for sulphuric acid now increased to an immense extent; and to supply it, capital was embarked abundantly, as it afforded an excellent remuneration. The origin and formation of sulphuric acid was studied more