Слике страница

It is, at least, extremely doubtful whether the benefits to be derived from such a change would be equivalent to the difficulties of achieving it, and the hazard of failing in the attempt.

5. The last superior advantage of the French metrology is, the uni formity, precision, and significancy, of its nomenclature.

In mere speculative theory, so great and unequivocal is this advantage, that it would furnish one of the most powerful arguments for adopting the whole system to which it belongs. In every system of weights and measures, ancient or modern, with which we are acquainted, until the new system of France, the poverty and imperfection of language has entangled the subject in a snarl of inextricable confusion. The original names of all the units of weights and measures have been improper applications of the substances from which they were derived. Thus, the foot, the palm, the span, the digit, the thumb, and the nail, have been, as measures, improperly so called, for the several parts of the human body, with the length of which they corresponded. Instead of a specific name, the measure usurped that of the standard from which it was taken. Had the foot rule been unalterable, the inconvenience of its improper appellation might have been slight. But, in the lapse of ages, and the revolutions of empires, the foot measure has been every where retained, but infinitely varied in its extent. Every nation of modern Europe has a foot measure, no two of which are the same. The English foot indeed was adopted and established in Russia by Peter the Great; but the original Russian foot was not the same. The Hebrew shekel and maneh, the Greek mina, and the Roman pondo, were weights. The general name weight improperly applied to the specific unit of weight. The Latin word libra, still more improperly, was borrowed from the balance in which it was employed : libra was the balance, and at the same time the pound weight. The terms weight and balance were thus generic terms, without specific meaning. They signified any weight in the balance, and varied according to the varying gravities of the specific standard unit at different times and in different countries. When, by the debasement of the coins they ceased to be identical with the weights, they still retained their names. The pound sterling retains its name three centuries after it has ceased to exist as a weight, and after having, as money, lost more than two thirds of its substance. We have discarded it indeed from our vocabulary ; but it is still the unit of moneys of account in England. The livre tournois of France, after still greater degeneracy, continued until the late revolution, and has only been laid aside for the new system. The ounce, the drachm, and the grain, are specific names, indefinitely applied as indefinite parts of an indefinite whole. The English pound avoirdupois is heavier than the pound troy; but the ounce avoirdupois is lighter than the ounce troy. The weights and measures of all the old systems present the perpetual paradox of a whole not equal to all its parts. Even numbers lose the definite character which is essential to their nature. A dozen become sixteen, twentyeight signify twenty-five, one hundred and twelve mean a hundred. The indiscriminate application of the same generic term to different specific things, and the misapplication of one specific term to another specific thing, universally pervade all the old systems, and are the inexhaustible fountains of diversity, confusion, and fraud. In the vocabulary of the French system, there is one specific, definite, significant word, to denote the unit of lineal measure; one for superficial, and one for solid measure; one for the unit of measures of capacity, and one for the unit of weights. The word is exclusively appropriated to the thing, and the thing to the word. The metre is a definite measure of length: it is nothing else. It cannot be a measure of one length in one country, and of another length in another. The gramme is a specific weight, and the litre a vessel of specific cubic contents, containing a specific weight of water. The multiples of these units are denoted by prefixing to them syllables derived from the Greek language, significant of their increase in decimal proportions. Thus, ten metres form a deca-metre; ten grammes, a deca-gramme; ten litres, a deca litre. The subdivisions, or decimal fractions of the unit, are equally significant in their denominations, the prefixed syl. Tables being derived from the Latin language. The deci-metre is a tenth part of a metre; the deci-gramme, the tenth part of a gramme; the deci-litre, the tenth part of a litre. Thus, in continued multiplication, the hecto-metre is a hundred, the kilo-metre a thousand, and the myria-metre ten thousand metres; while, in continued division, the centi-metre is the hundredth, and the milli-metre the thousandth part of the metre. The same prefixed syllables apply equally to the multiples and divisions of the weight, and of all the other measures. Four of the prefixes for multiplication, and three for division, are all that the system requires. These twelve words, with the franc, the decime, and the centimne, of the coins, contain the whole system of French metrology, and a complete language of weights, measures, and money.

But where is the steam engine of moral power to stem the stubborn tide of prejudice, and the headlong current of inveterate usage? The cheerful, ready, and immediate adoption, by the mass of the nation, of these twelve words, would have secured the triumph of the new system of France. The unutterable confusions of signifying the same thing by different words, and different things by the same word, would have ceased. The setier would no longer have been a common representative for twelve boisseaus of corn, for fourteen of oats, for sixteen of salt, and for thirty-two of coal, and for eight pints of wine. The pound would no longer have been of ten, of twelve, of fourteen, of sixteen, and of eighteen ounces, in different parts of the same country. The weights and the measures would have been both perfect and just : and the blessing of uniformity enjoyed by France would have been the most effective recommendation of her system to all the rest of mankind. It is mortifying to the philanthropy, which yearns for the improvement of the condition of man, to know that this is precisely the part of the system which it has been found impracticable to carry through.

The modern language of all the mathematical and physical sciences is derived from the Greek and Latin; with a partial exception of some terms which are of Arabic origin. Geography, chemistry, the pure mathematics, botany, mineralogy, zoology, in all of which great discoveries have been made within the last three centuries, have borrowed from those primitive languages almost invariably the words by which those discoveries have been expressed. They are the languages in which all that was heretofore known of art or science was contained: nor are the moral and political sciences less indebted to them for numerous additions to their vocabalaries which the progress of modern improvements bas required. But there is a natural aversion in the mass of mankind to the adoption of words, to which their lips and ears are not from their infancy accustomed. Hence it is that the use of all technical language is excluded from social conversation, and from all literary composition suited to general reading ; from poetry, from oratory, from all the regions of imagination and taste in the world of the human mind. The student of science, in his cabinet, easily familiarizes to his memory, and adopts without repugnance, words indicative of new discoveries or inventions, analo. gous to the words in the same science already stored in his memory. The artist, at his work, finds no difficulty to receive or use the words appropriate to his own profession. But the general mass of mankind, of every condition, reluct at the use of unaccustomed sounds, and shrink especially from new words of many syllables. But weights and measures are instruments indispensable, not only to the philosophical student and the professional artist; they are the want of every individual and of every day. They are the want of food, of raiment, of shelter, of all the labors and all the pleasures of social existence. Weights and measures, like all the common necessaries of life, have, in all the countries of modern Europe, customary names of one, or, at most, of two, syllables. The units of the new French system have no more; but their multiples and subdivisions have four or five; and, although compounded of syllables familiar to those who had any acquaintance with the classical languages of Greece and Rome, they had a strange and outlandish sound to the ears of the people in general, who would never be taught to pronounce them. Hence, after an experience of several years, it was found necessary, not only to give back to the people the vulgar fractions of their measures, which had been taken from them, but all their indefinite and many-meaning words of pound and ounce, foot, aune and thumb, boisseau and pint. Since which time there have been, besides all the relics of the old metrology, two concurrent systems of weights and measures in France; one, the proper legal system, with decimal divisions and multiplications, and the new, precise, and significant nomenclature ; and the other a system of sufferance, with the same instruments, but divided in all the old varieties of vulgar fractions, and with the old improper vocabulary, made still more so by its adaptation to new and different things.

Perhaps it may be found, by more protracted and multiplied expe. rience, that this is the only uniformity attainable by a system of weights and measures for universal use : that the same material instruments shall be divisible decimally for calculations and accounts ; but in any other manner suited to convenience in the shops and markets; that their appropriate legal denominations shall be used for computation, and the trivial names for actual weight, or mensuration.

It results, however, from this review of the present condition of the French system in its native country, and from the comparison of its theoretical advantages over that which we already possess, that the time has not arrived at which so great and hazardous an experi. ment can be recommended, as that of discarding all our established existing weights and measures, to adopt and legalize those of France in their stead. The single standard, proportional to the circumference of the earth; the singleness of the units for all the various modes of mensuration; the universal application to them of decimal arithmetic; the unbroken chain of connection between all weights, measures, moneys, and coins; and the precise, significant, short, and complete vocabulary of their denominations ; altogether forming a system adapted equally to the use of all mankind; afford such a combination of the principle of uniformity for all the most importantoperations of the intercourse of human society; the establishment of such a system so obviously tends to that great result, the improvement of the physical, moral, and intellectual, condition of man upon earth; that there can be neither doubt nor hesitation in the opinion, that the ultimate adoption, and universal though modified application of that system, is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

To despair of human improvement is not more congenial to the judgment of sound philosophy than to the temper of brotherly kindness. Uniformity of weights and measures is, and has been for ages, the common, earnest, and anxious pursuit of France, of Great Britain, and, since their independent existence, of the United States. To the attainment of one object, common to them all, they have been proceeding by different means, and with different ultimate ends. France alone has proposed a plan suitable to the ends of all; and has invited co-operation for its construction and establishment. The associated pursuit of great objects of common interest is among the most powerful modern expedients for the improvement of man. The principle is at this time in full operation, for the abolition of the African slave-trade. What reason can be assigned, why other objects, of common interest to the whole species, should not be in like manner made the subject of common deliberation and concerted effort? To promote the intercourse of nations with each other, the uniformity of their weights and measures is among the most efficacious agencies : and this uniformity can be effected only by mutual understanding and united energy. A single and universal system can be finally established only by a general convention, to which the principal nations of the world shall be parties, and to which they shall all give their assent. To effect this, would seem to be no difficult achieve.

of others the formation with jealousies. I is merelyacting interade itself?

ment. It has one advantage over every plan of moral or political improvement, not excepting the abolition of the slave-trade itself: there neither is, nor can be, any great counteracting interest to overcome. The conquest to be obtained is merely over prejudices, usages, and perhaps national jealousies. The whole evil to be subdued is diversity of opinion with regard to the means of attaining the same end. To the formation of the French system, the learning and the genius of other nations did co-operate with those of her native sons. The cooperation of Great Britain was invited ; and there is no doubt that of the United States would have been accepted, had it been offered. The French system embraces all the great and important principles of uniformity, which can be applied to weights and measures : but that system is not yet complete. It is susceptible of many modifications and improvements. Considered merely as a labor-saving machine, it is a new power, offered to man, incomparably greater than that which he has acquired by the new agency which he has given to steam. It is in design the greatest invention of human ingenuity since that of printing. But, like that, and every other useful and complicated invention, it could not be struck out perfect at a heat. Time and experience have already dictated many improvements of its mechanism; and others may, and undoubtedly will, be found necessary for it hereafter. But all the radical principles of uniformity are in the machine: and the more universally it shall be adopted, the more certain will it be of attaining all the perfection which is within the reach of human power.

Another motive, which would seem to facilitate this concert of nations, is, that it conceals no lurking danger to the independence of any of them. It needs no convocation of sovereigns, armed with military power. It oper:s no avenue to partial combinations and intrigues. It can mask, under the vizor of virtue, no project of avarice or ambition. It can disguise no private or perverted ends, under the varnish of generous and benevolent aims. It has no final appeal to physical force; no ultima ratio of cannon balls. Its objects are not only pacific in their nature, but can be pursued by no other than peaceable means. Would it not be strange, if, while mankind find it so easy to attain uniformity in the use of every engine adapted to their mutual destruction, they should find it impracticable to agree upon the few and simple but indispensable instruments of all their intercourse of peace and friendship and beneficence that they should use the same artillery and musketry, and bayonets and swords and lances, for the wholesale trade of human slaughter, and that they should refuse to weigh by the same pound, to measure by the same rule, to drink from the same cup, to use in fine the same materials for ministering to the wants and contributing to the enjoyments of one another?

These views are presented as leading to the conclusion, that, as final and universal uniformity of weights and measures is the common desideratum for all civilized nations; as France has formed, and for her own use has established, a system, adapted, by the high

« ПретходнаНастави »