Review of Reviews,  18 (1898), 327–35.

The Progress of the World



Regular Feature, Editorial, News-Commentary


Military Technology, War, Scientism, Chemistry, Invention, Progress, Imperialism, Exploration, Organic Chemistry, Natural Economy, Agriculture, Hydrography, Dynamics, Futurism, Fear, Scientific Practitioners, Imagination, Spiritualism, Matter Theory

Institutions mentioned:


    Remarks that the success of the British-Egyptian forces at the battle of Omdurman shows the 'thickness of the magic panoply of civilisation'. During the battle the Mahdist army of Dervishes 'fought as befits men who were making the last and the supreme rally of savage humanity against the perfected machine of scientific valour', and they 'had to be cleared out by Maxims, and died literally in heaps'. It is now evident that the 'sceptre of the world, even of the heart of Central Africa, is no longer wielded by the brawny arm of the swift barbarian. Not even in the far Soudan can the brain of the chemist and of the mechanic brook a rival. The brain that invents is now definitely master of the hand that slays, and although the lesson has been terrible—as executions always are—is it not a vital feature in the progress of the world?'. (327) At the same time, however, the 'human factor [...] cannot be eliminated even by the chemist. To hurl the thunderbolts of science it is necessary to have men who can carry them within range of the enemy. A race of weaklings cannot wield the hammer of Thor'. Also reports that four hundred miles further down the Nile from Omdurman, the town of Fashoda has been claimed by 'Major Marchand, a French explorer who left the West Coast of Africa two years since on a pseudo-scientific expedition across the continent'. (328) At the meeting of the 'British Association Sir W. Crookes, in his inaugural address, indulged in an alarming speculation as to the possible exhaustion of the nitrates of the world. To answer the prayer, "Give us day by day our daily bread", it is necessary we should have sufficient store of fixed nitrogen to replenish the exhausted fertility of our wheat lands', but we are 'using it up rapidly, and wasting it [...] to the sum of £16,000,000 a year in sewage emptied into the sea'. Crookes, however, reassured his audience that 'free nitrogen exists in the atmosphere in such immense volume that if the chemist could but induce the mechanician to complete the harnessing of Niagara to the dynamo, he would ere long be able manufacture the fertilising nitrate direct from the air'. Comments that, along with Crookes, 'Another scientific man [i.e. William Thomson (1st Baron Kelvin); see RR1/17/5a/3] is said to indulge in the speculation that in three hundred years the progress of industrialism will have exhausted the oxygen of the atmosphere of the world. There is nothing like a man of science with imagination for the breeding of nightmares'. Also observes that 'Sir W. Crookes distinguished himself by the testimony which he bore in his Presidential address to the truth of what I am wont familiarly to speak of as "spooks". No scientific man has investigated more carefully or certified more positively the strange phenomena of spiritualism', and concludes 'Good, very good all this. Spooks are looking up'. (333)

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