By Mr. W.H. PREECE, F.R.S.
I do not know what the sensations of a man can be who is about to undergo the painful operation of execution; but I am inclined to think his sensations must be somewhat similar to those of a lecturer, brimful of notes, who has to wait until the clock strikes before he is allowed to address his audience.
The President has been kind enough to refer to the paper I propose to give you, as "Electricity in America in the year 1884;" but I would rather, after having thought more about it, that it be called "A Visit to Canada and the United States in the year 1884."
It will be in the recollection of a good many who are present that in the year 1877 I visited America, in conjunction with Mr. H.C. Fischer, the Controller of our Central Telegraph Station, to officially inspect and report upon the telegraph arrangements of that country; and on the 9th February, 1878, I had the pleasure of communicating to the members of this Society my experiences of that visit.
During the present year my visit was not an official one; I went for a holiday, and specially to accompany the members of the British Association, who, for the first time in the history of that association, held a meeting outside the limits of the United Kingdom.
We sailed from Liverpool in a splendid steamship called the Parisian. There were nearly 200 B.A. members on board; and notwithstanding the fact that rude Boreas tried all he could to prevent us from reaching the other side of the Atlantic; notwithstanding the fact that the Atlantic expressed its anger in the most unmistakable terms at our audacity in turning from our native shore; notwithstanding the fact that Greenland's icy mountains blew chilly blasts upon us, and made us call out all the warm things we possessed - I say notwithstanding all this, we reached the Gulf of St. Lawrence in safety, and I do not think that a merrier or a happier crew ever crossed the Atlantic.
There is one very interesting fact that is not generally known, and I certainly was unaware of it before I started, in connection with this particular route across the Atlantic, and that is, that by it the ship passes within only 200 miles of Greenland. The great circle that directs the shortest route from the north of Ireland to the Straits of Belle Isle passes within the cold region, and hence, while you were all sweltering in heat in London, we were compelled to bring out our ulsters and all our warm garments, to enable us to cross with any degree of comfort. The advantage of this particular route is supposed to be the fact that only five days are spent upon the ocean, and the remainder of the voyage is occupied in the calms and comforts of the Gulf and River St. Lawrence. But I am inclined to think that the roughness of the ocean and the coolness of the weather at all seasons are quite sufficient to prevent anybody from repeating our experience.
We arrived at Montreal in time to attend the opening meeting of the British Association; and at Montreal we were received with great hospitality, great attention, and great kindness from all our brethren in Canada, and we held there certainly a very successful and very pleasant gathering. There were 1,773 members of the British Association altogether present, and of that number there were 600 who had crossed the Atlantic; the remainder being made up of Canadians, and by at least 200 Americans, including all the most distinguished professors who adorn the rolls of science in the United States. As is invariably the rule in these British Association meetings, we had not only papers to enlighten us, but entertainments to cheer us; and excursions were arranged in every direction, to enable us to become acquainted with the beauties and peculiarities of the American continent. Some members went to Quebec, some to Ottawa, others to the Lakes, others to Toronto, many went to Niagara; and altogether the arrangements made for our comfort and pleasure were such, that I have not heard one single soul who attended this meeting at Montreal express the slightest regret that he crossed the Atlantic.
The meeting at Montreal certainly cannot be called an electricians' meeting. The gathering of the British Association has often been distinguished by the first appearance of some new instrument or the divulgence of some new scientific secret; but there was nothing of any special interest brought forward on this occasion. The only real novelty or striking fact that I can recall as having taken place was a remarkable discussion that originated by Professor Oliver Lodge, upon the "Seat of the Electromotive Force in a Voltaic Cell."
This was an experiment on the part of the British Association. Discussions, as a rule, have not been the case at our meetings. Papers have been read and papers have been discussed; but on this occasion three or four subjects were named as fit for discussion, and distinguished professors were selected to open the discussion.
On this particular subject, Professor Oliver Lodge opened the discussion, and he did so in an original, an efficient, and in a chirpy kind of manner that took by storm not only the professors who knew him, but those who did not know him; and I am bound to say that I do not think we could possibly better spend an evening during the coming session, or more profitably, than by asking Professor Oliver Lodge to bring the subject before this Society, so as to allow us on this side of the water to discuss the same subject.
Of course the prominent figure at our meetings was Lord Rayleigh; and I do not think that any person could possibly have been present at those meetings of the British Association without feeling an intense personal admiration for this man, and an affection for the way in which he maintained the position of an English gentleman and the credit of an English scientific body, to the astonishment and delight of every one present. Then, again, we had our past President, Sir William Thomson, who was not quite so ubiquitous as usual; he did not dance from section to section as he usually does, but remained as president of his own section, A. I think he only left his section for a day, and that was to attend the electrical day in Section G; but in his own section he brought down those words of wisdom that one always hears from him, and which make one always regret that there is not always present about him a shorthand writer to take down thoughts and ideas that never occur again, and are only heard by those who have the benefit of being present.