Necessity is the mother of Invention, saith the proverb. In many cases, the meaning of this pithy sentence has been reversed and Invention has proved the mother of Necessity. Of 11 the long line of illustrious men, whose works still live, and will continue to exert their beneficial effects upon the welfare of mankind, none have been so sorely tried, none have achieved more glorious victories, than inventors. High birth, extensive learning, or even wealth, have not purchased immunity from superstitious persecution, from contumely, nor -am poverty and neglect. lhe age has past when a Galileo was brought before an ec- clesiastical bar to answer for heresy, because, forsooth, he had demonstrated a great truth which conflicted with the superstitions of the time; but the difficulties resulting from limited means and facilities, from deficient material, and the demands upon time and mental energy in the struggle for subsistence still remain to embarrass and fetter the modern inventor. Many are unequal to the contest and cease further effort, leaving, doubtless, valuable ideas partially developed, which from thenceforth become to them like household treasures forever buried out of sight. We have seen many such in our experience and expect to see many more. We sympathize with, while we admire them; for be it remembered, that fidelity to an idea once conceived is a mark of true greatness. Your great inventor makes pecuniary reward always secondary. The successful demonstration of the truth of his conception is the paramount motive with him. It was, we think, the great architect. Inigo Jones who remarked regretfully in his old age, that he never had done his best; that there had always been some limiting circumstance of cost, or site, or dimensions, or whim on the part of others, that had confined his powers, so that the beautiful and masterly conceptions of which he felt himself capable had never been produced. We have said that mxny inventors are unequal to the con- j test with adverse circumstances. That this is so does not prove them all weak. Many are strong, but cruel circum-) stances are stronger. Pallissy, whose fame rests no more upon his succeesful imitation of the Italian pottery, than his long struggle through sixteen years of unprecedented trial, would have succumbed to blindness had that been added to his other misfortunes of imprisonment and poverty. Though he burned his chairs for fuel to bake his experimental wares, and suffered pangs which only those can feel who hear the unanswered cries of loved ones for bread, and yet held out stoutly, he might have given up in despair, it an angry nerve had risen in rebellion against overtaxed energy, and added the physical pain of tic doloreaux to his sum of afflictions. Arkwright, first barber, finally a knight of the realm, capable of separation from a wife who, lacking faith in his ideas, and lacking household comforts which a more close application to shaving would have procured, broke his models, might have yielded to other obstacles. It is worthy of note, however, that those who have been most sorely tried and who have been able to endure to the end, have triumphed most signally. Of such many illustrious modern examples, as well as those of a past age, might be cited. One learns something of the value of pluck in reading the histories of these great men, who engaged not only in a conflict with untoward circumstances, with doubting cavillers, and personal afflictions, have with one hand held them all at bay, while with the other, they have wrested from Nature a response to their demands. Even the demand upon physical, courage has been met by this class of men as much as by any other. There are men whowalk our streets with faces scarred by explosions, with mutilated limbs, and broken constitutions, resulting from voluntary risks taken in the pursuance of some new truth that should benefit their race. What space would be required to record the sublime achievements of these much tried and long suffering benefactors of mankind. The civilization and even Christianization of the world has been forwarded as much by their aid as by any j other human means. It is to them we owe our cheap Bibles as well as cheap transportation; the means of rapidly distributing the bread of life to those that sit in darkness. In the future the names of these shall stand like fixed stars perpetually shining, while those brilliant meteors which have dazzled the gaze of past and present ages, by the red blaze of military glory, shall have gone out forever.
This article was originally published with the title "The Darien Ship Canal—Water Communication between the Atlantic and Pacific" in Scientific American 20, 10, 153 (March 1869)