tldt arrow
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript

Too Long; Didn't Read

The little encouragement which at all previous periods has been afforded by the English Government to the authors of useful discoveries, or of new and valuable inventions, is justified on the following grounds: The public, who consume the new commodity or profit by the new invention, are much better judges of its merit than the government can be. The reward which arises from the sale of the commodity is usually much larger than that which government would be justified in bestowing; and it is exactly proportioned to the consumption, that is, to the want which the public feel for the new article. It must be admitted that, as general principles, these are correct: there are, however, exceptions which flow necessarily from the very reasoning from which they were deduced. Without entering minutely into these exceptions, it will be sufficient to show that all abstract truth is entirely excluded from reward under this system. It is only the application of principles to common life which can be thus rewarded. A few instances may perhaps render this position more evident. The principle of the hydrostatic paradox was known as a speculative truth in the time of Stevinus; [About the year 1600] and its application to raising heavy weights has long been stated in elementary treatises on natural philosophy, as well as constantly exhibited in lectures. Yet, it may fairly be regarded as a mere abstract principle, until the late Mr. Bramah, by substituting a pump instead of the smaller column, converted it into a most valuable and powerful engine.—The principle of the convertibility of the centres of oscillation and suspension in the pendulum, discovered by Huygens more than a century and a half ago, remained, until within these few years, a sterile, though most elegant proposition; when, after being hinted at by Prony, and distinctly pointed out by Bonenberger, it was employed by Captain Kater as the foundation of a most convenient practical method of determining the length of the pendulum.—The interval which separated the discovery, by Dr. Black, of latent heat, from the beautiful and successful application of it to the steam engine, was comparatively short; but it required the efforts of two minds; and both were of the highest order.—The influence of electricity in producing decompositions, although of inestimable value as an instrument of discovery in chemical inquiries, can hardly be said to have been applied to the practical purposes of life, until the same powerful genius which detected the principle, applied it, by a singular felicity of reasoning, to arrest the corrosion of the copper-sheathing of vessels. That admirably connected chain of reasoning, the truth of which is confirmed by its very failure as a remedy, will probably at some future day supply, by its successful application, a new proof of the position we are endeavouring to establish.
Charles Babbage  HackerNoon profile picture


Charles Babbage

English Polymath—mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, father of computers.

Receive Stories from @charlesbabbage

react to story with heart
Charles Babbage  HackerNoon profile picture
by Charles Babbage @charlesbabbage.English Polymath—mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, father of computers.
Read my stories


. . . comments & more!