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excited. But it has seemed to me, that in a moment like the present, by giving utterance, thus in public, to a deep and genuine loyal feeling, if I contribute nothing to the accomplishment of a good, I at least incur no hazard of doing any harm.
Gentlemen, I thank you for the patience on which you have allowed me to draw so largely; and now dismiss you to better employment than that of listening to me.
FOUNDED ON A SYSTEM FROM WHICH, AS A UNIVERSAL
In such enlightened times as the present, and in the midst of a profound peace, one might expect that such an important affair as the Reformation of Weights and Measures should occupy the discussion of a Committee, selected not from one nation only, but from all civilized, or at any rate from all European nations.
With respect to a Calendar, the greater part of Europe was determined to have but one language. Why then not act the same by weights and measures? If the former be advantageous, there can be no doubt of the advantages of the latter.
“The prodigious number of measures in use, not only among different people, but in the same nation; their whimsical divisions, inconvenient for calculation, and the difficulty of knowing and comparing them; finally, the embarrassment and frauds which result from them in commerce ; cannot be observed without acknowledging that the adoption of a system of measures, of which the uniform divisions are most easily subjected to calculation, and which are derived in a manner the least arbitrary from a fundamental measure, indicated by nature itself, would be one of the greatest services which science and government can render to the human race. A people who should adopt such a system of measures, would unite to the advantage of gathering the first fruits of it, that of seeing their example followed by other nations, of which it would thus become the benefactor. For the slow but irresistible empire of reason, at length overcomes all the national jealousies and obstacles which oppose themselves to an advantage that would be universally felt.” (Pond's translation of Laplace's System of the World, 1809; vol. 1. p. 152, &c.)
After the example set in France, it seems hardly credible that, out of such a multitude of feet of different lengths adopted in various parts of Europe, the English foot should be seriously selected to be the standard of length.
The adoption of such a unit would surely not furnish a proof “ that the enlightened men of all countries compose only one family," nor could it be considered as "the pledge of a close union between the nations themselves.” Instead of using sophistry to vilify the French metrical system, how much better would it be to honorably propose a fair inquiry concerning it? It is of no use to excuse the imperfections of an arbitrary system by attributing prejudices to the illiterate, while the adoption of Fahrenheit's absurd scale affords an instance of prejudice belonging only to those who might be supposed superior to it. Neither is it of any use to "congratulate the public upon the probability of having this business managed agreeably to the principles of common sense,” nor to state that a system founded on mere caprice “ is calculated to satisfy the philosopher,” No well-meaning man in his senses can be satisfied with a system founded on partiality.
More than a century ago our great philosophers and philanthropists Locke and Wilkins proposed for a universal standard measure, the length of a pendulum vibrating, in a given latitude, vulgar seconds, 86400 times in a day. The chief objection to this is, that of founding a system of measures, which ought to be decimally divided, upon a sexagesimal division of time, which is arbitrary.
But perhaps this proposal, which is susceptible of improvement in these more enlightened times, is to give place to one more arbitrary; namely, that of an arbitrary division of measures, arbitrarily derived from an arbitrary division of time.
It is to be hoped that a system so whimsically built, will give place to one fit for commerce and philosophical communication, and that can with propriety be adopted by the rest of Europe. If the reverse should happen, perhaps England will have the mortification to see all its neighbouring nations united in adopting a more perfect system, from the benefit of which it would be thus excluded.
It would not be wondered at if masters of academies were to rail against a system, which, following a decimal progression, would so much abridge calculations as to cause considerably less time and expense to be devoted to the arithmetical education of youth.
However, if the rejection of the French metrical system be really founded on an inaccurate measurement of a quarter meridian, and 'not on private interest or national jealousy, the following hints are humbly offered to the consideration of philanthropists by a well-wisher to his country and to the world.
PREPARATORY TABLES, &c. laid down merely as a foundation on which to build the proposed system.
50 minutes=1 hour.
Division of the Quadrant. Since in geometry the right angle is made the standard with which to compare all other angles, it is but following the same system to express parts of right angles by decimal fractions, considering the right angle as the “unity of angles.”. Hence 100 seconds=1 minute.
100 minutes=1 grade.
100 grades=1 right angle.
Division of the Scale of the Thermometer. The most simple division is that, where the distance from melting ice to boiling water is divided into 100 equal parts, which are numbered from melting ice,
These equal parts may be called grades, to distinguish them from degrees. The above scale has been called centigrade.
Universal Meridian. Since the sun arrives at any place before it arrives at the westward of that place, it is evident that the hours are naturally marked on the terrestrial globe from west to east, and consequently that the longitude should be reckoned from west to east only.
If there were but one island on the globe, it would be natural to choose the most western point of that island for a meridian, from which to reckon the longitudes of the places contained in it.
In the same manuer, if there were several islands on the globe, it would be natural to choose for a meridian the most western point of the largest island.
Since then Cape Verd is the most western point of our largest island (the great eastern continent), it seems most natural to draw through this point our universal meridian.
Remark.-France is the first land, to the eastward of this meridian, affording an arc ofa meridian intersected by a mean, parallelof latitude.
This consideration makes the choice of meridians, for the deter. mination of the metre, appear the least arbitrary.