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From the time when the tolling and patient philosophy of induction and experiment, inaugurated by Lord Bacon, came into favor, physics, arts, utility and progress have ruled the thoughts of men, and developed with amazing rapidity their producing powers. The barren disputations of the schoolmen and the absurdities of astrology and alchemy receded before the advance of natural science and mechanical construction, and the arrangement and adjustment of natural forces took their place. If the great master who taught the world to investigate, step by step, and process by process, the laws to govern them in their efforts to subdue matter and combine forces could view the gigantic results of enterprise, production and consumption which distinguish our modern civilization, his soul would swell with a triumph such as never thrilled the heart of the grandest and most successful of military conquerors. Now that war has ended and peace resumed its away; now that Virginia has entered upon a new era, we feel profoundly solicitous that the mechanical arts and manufactures should enlist the interest and energies of her people. The war itself bore striking testimony to their value and importance. The genius of the country was only quickened and invigorated by the excitations of the time, and the creative and constructive forces played a part as influential as the armies in the field. The development of mechanical skill in the South was among the most noticeable phenomena of that wonderful period. We had been a purely agricultural people; and, in the midst of an age and country of mechanism, had left to others the rich prises of mechanical and manufacturing industry. The war having disclosed to us capacities which we did not know ourselves that we possessed, let us now apply them to the restoration of our fallen fortunes and the development of the wealth and greatness of our State. The influence of the mechanic arts upon political and social progress is conspicuously inscribed upon every page of modern history. It was among the most powerful agencies that undermined the institution of feudalism and paved the way for the triumph of liberal ideas and the fusion of social classes. The philosophical historian, Hallam, in classifying the periods and the causes of the deliverance of Europe, has ascribed one of the first degrees of progress to the introduction of woolen manufactures into Flauders, nearly six hundred years ago. This new dispensation of industry made that little district one of the wonders of the world, and attracted to it merchants from all the kingdoms of the earth. Mechanical skill and production spread from Flanders to the free cities of Germany; and England's great Edward conferred upon her a boon, by introducing emigration from the manufactories of the continent, which has rarely been equalled by her most glorious military and naval victories. It has been justly observed that, aided by the practical arts, the democratically interest gained the first modern triumph; for while, in an earlier day, Wat Tyler's powerless rabble fell easily before the knights in their armor of steel, Cromwell gathered from the houses of mechanics and merchants those steady soldiers whose backs were never seen by the foe. The progress of Great Britain since she emerged from the middle period exposed her to the taunt of Napoleon that she was a nation of shop-keepers; but she was, and is, equally a nation of mechanics; and it was the wealth which trade and manufactures produced that proved too strong in the end for even the genius of Napoleon. It has been said, and we dare say with truth, that Arkwright, who placed cotton spinning in the sisterhood of national powers, bore the English nation triumphantly through the wars of the French revolution; and that Watt, who organized the steam engine, was the conqueror of the conqueror of Europe. At a later period, when a plain Northumberland mechanic inaugurated the grand railroad experiment of the age, Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, looking from one of the bridges at the flashing train, exclaimed: ‘"1 "rejoice to see it, and to think that feudality is "gone forever."’ The development of the mechanic arts in the American colonies awakened, at an early period, the jealousy of the mother country, and gave rise to a repressive, and, occasionally, prohibitory policy of Great Britain, intended to impoverish the industrial resources of the colonists, and drawing from Mr. Burke the remark that the English nation seemed to act upon the thought that America was becoming her rival in the department of handicraft, This legislation aroused a corresponding spirit in the colonies, so that, as has been justly remarked, when the time came for rupturing the tie of empire, the question of taxation was rather the occasion than the primary cause of the wars. The mechanical genius thus early and prominently displayed in this country has stamped itself indelibly upon the national character and progress. Even Great Britain, the workshop of the world, with her twenty thousand steam engines, driven with a power equal to two millions of men, trembles at the mechanical energies of a country which, in the very infancy of its existence, has reclaimed an empire larger than Europe from the wilds of barbarism, which has constructed thirty thousand miles of railroad, and twenty-five thousand miles of electric wire. We invoke Virginia to embark with promptness and energy in those mechanic arts which are, in these modern days, the chief agencies of national wealth and power. We have neglected too long, in former days, this patent and practical highway to greatness. The undoubted energies of the Virginia character has been unprofitably expended in barren political fields, yielding only the thistle bloom of glory, but nothing that could afford sustenance to either man or beast. If the mechanical arts, with which manufactures may be considered synonymous, and the enterprises of commerce had engaged as much and as persistently the attention of our people as the prizes and harvests of political renown, she would now be the foremost State of the American Union, We have now an opportunity to retrieve our error and to lay the foundations of the most prosperous and powerful Commonwealth of the Western Hemisphere. We should rejoice to see some movement to that end inaugurated by the Legislature — the establishment, for example, of an institution similar in design to the late Mechanics' Institute of Richmond, but with a more comprehensive plan, and more enlarged capacities of usefulness.
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