In Whitman's Hand

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About this Item

Title: Prophecy that soon the Atlantic

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Between 1850 and 1860

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00040

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the marginalia and annotations, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note(s): At one point, this manuscript likely formed part of Whitman's cultural geography scrapbook.

Contributors to digital file: Ashlyn Stewart, and Kevin McMullen


Key


Paste-on | Whitman's Notes on Paste-on | Whitman's Highlighting on Paste-on | Erasure | Overwrite



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Prophecy that soon the Atlantic will be sailed nearly altogether by Iron Ships, and that those will be Screw Propellers


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So much for sailing ships, which after all are only one of our weak points. The following extract from an English pamphlet recently published, will suggest another:

"The indications are too distinct to be misconceived, that a new era in ocean navigation is rapidly approaching. The proofs have become convincing, to investigating minds, that iron and steam are to supersede wood and canvas, in the movement of the products and passengers between the two hemispheres. The greater size, strength and security in every respect—to say nothing of durability of wear—which may be imparted to iron steamships, combine to render such a result positively certain. Before the end of this century there will not, probably, be a wooden hull navigating the Atlantic under canvas."

Now, if "iron and steam are to supersede wood and canvas" on the ocean,—which position do we find ourselves placed in? Why in such a position, that if iron and iron ships are not admitted to our ports without change or impost, we may as well make up our minds to be driven ere long from the carrying trade. The present state of our mercantile marine is thus described in the Journal of Commerce on Wednesday:

"Such a depression as now exists in the mercantile marine, has been seldom experienced. Wharves, far up town, usually vacant, are fully occupied by ships laid up in idleness; other vessels, taking their chance in trade, sail in ballast, or otherwise earn an uncomfortable loss to the owners. Profitable voyages are the exceptions. Prominent among the causes tending to this result, is the great increase of ocean streamers. Certainly their abundance aggravates the evil, if it is not an occasion of it. Their influence has been more perceptible since the close of the Eastern war, by which quite a number of them were released from the transport service. Now, it is distinctly recognized; and predictions are already made that we only see the beginning of the end; that sailing vessels must gradually yet inevitably disappear from the Atlantic, before the omnipotent power of steam."

While many of our finest ships are lying [illegible] there are stated to be upwards of eighty [illegible]ers being built in the ports of Great [illegible] alone, all but two are three being screw [illegible]ers; and many of them intended for the


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Atlantic trade. In other words, they are intended to beat our sailing ships out of the market, and they do beat them.

What is to be done? If any one still believes that we can build steamers to compete with the iron built steamers of England, we can only refer him to the experience of every company who have navigated the Atlantic. It has been long admitted on all hands that paddle steamers cannot be employed at a profit without a Government subsidy. Screw-propellers can; and hence the phenomenon now witnessed in England of the all but universal adoption of the screw. But wooden vessels are too heavy for rapid screw propulsion. An experiment made by one company of building half their screw steamers of wood has proved a failure, and was abandoned after one or two vessels had been constructed, and iron is now the only material used.

There is not a single screw propeller on the stocks in this country for the European trade; there are upwards of eighty in England. The obvious and unavoidable conclusion is that we cannot build them without loss. But screw steamers are absorbing the whole foreign trade, and unless we are prepared to supply ourselves, as the rest of the world does, with iron ships where we can get them cheapest, we may as well abandon the carrying trade at once. We need, therefore, feel no surprise at the fact, that France, Belgium, and even Spain and Italy are getting up companies which will traverse the Atlantic with innumerable steamers, bring us the goods we consume, and depart laden with our produce, and thus, not simply deprive our merchants of the profits of our carrying trade, but the country of the glory of standing first among maritime nations.


———

N.Y. Times
'57


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