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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 61


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A very small amount of consideration will convince anyone that the facilities possessed by any country for the transport of its people, produce, and merchandise, must have a marked effect on the social condition of its inhabitants; and this being the case, it is the more remarkable that so little attention has been paid to the subject.

I believe it might be laid down as an axiom, that the commercial and social prosperity of any country is in exact proportion to its transit facilities.

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A little careful study will show that, as every marked increase in the facilities for travelling has been accorded to any people, so there has speedily followed an equally marked improvement in the commercial and social condition of that community.

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With the Romans came good roads and ships—or rather galleys,—and the advance in civilisation was rapid. I do not mean to say that the roads were the only civilising agencies at work, but I do emphatically say this—that, without the roads, the civilising influence of the Romans would have been confined within very narrow limits. Civilising influences were then, as they are now, limited by the speed, ease, and cheapness of the means of transit.

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Take for instance the vast continent of Africa. Portions of it have been highly civilised for ages, but how little the influence of that civilisation was felt over the whole continent. And for why? Simply because those nations had no adequate means of reaching the interior; nor can this great work ever be accomplished until we push our roads and rails into its principal districts.

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The means of inland transit began to improve in the days of Telford, McAdam, and the Earl of Bridgewater, but it was not till the advent of steam that any real progress was made. With the development of the new motive power came great and rapid progress—civilisation, the arts, science, manufactures. All shot ahead with marvellous speed. Wealth was rapidly accumulated; luxury, pleasure, social enjoyments increased everywhere; and, side by side with all this, came an ever increasing, ever darkening, ever deepening in hideous intensity, such a mass of human wretchedness and misery as no former age has ever witnessed, and such as we hope, in God's mercy, no future age will ever see.

What an amount of trouble and research has been expended in attempting to account for this vast accumulation of wealth, the great and enormous progress made in the arts and sciences, side by side with the constant piling up of the most abject poverty, disease, and crime. People ask how it is, and why it should be, that in one street there should be whole terraces of houses full of every conceivable luxury, houses that cannot be maintained under many thousands per annum, and, that in another street only a few yards off, there should be nothing but the most wretched hovels inhabited by the most miserably poor?