Chapter 1 of Jules Verne's FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. With commentary.
** See blog post dated 12/28/05 for more on the significance of the this work, one of the finest rendered and most prescient works of science fiction ever written, in my opinion. It's been exactly 100 years since Jules Verne 's last writings.
<--Michel Arden, the first astronaut, from the 1872 illustrated edition
Chapter 1 The Baltimore Gun Club
During the War of the Rebellion, a new and influential club was established in the city of Baltimore in the State of Maryland. It is well known with what energy the taste for military matters became developed among that nation of ship-owners, shopkeepers, and mechanics. Simple tradesmen jumped their counters to become extemporized captains, colonels, and generals, without having ever passed the School of Instruction at West Point; nevertheless; they quickly rivaled their compeers of the old continent, and, like them, carried off victories by dint of lavish expenditure in ammunition, money, and men.
But the point in which the Americans singularly distanced the Europeans was in the science of gunnery. Not, indeed, that their weapons retained a higher degree of perfection than theirs, but that they exhibited unheard-of dimensions, and consequently attained hitherto unheard-of ranges. In point of grazing, plunging, oblique, or enfilading, or point-blank firing, the English, French, and Prussians have nothing to learn; but their cannon, howitzers, and mortars are mere pocket-pistols compared with the formidable engines of the American artillery.
This fact need surprise no one. The Yankees, the first mechanicians in the world, are engineers-- just as the Italians are musicians and the Germans metaphysicians-- by right of birth. Nothing is more natural, therefore, than to perceive them applying their audacious ingenuity to the science of gunnery. Witness the marvels of Parrott, Dahlgren, and Rodman. The Armstrong, Palliser, and Beaulieu guns were compelled to bow before their transatlantic rivals.
Bill's Commentary: Boom Whoosh and SplatThe desire to build interesting things, especially things that go whoosh, boom, then splat dates far back into American history. From the Earth to the Moon depicts the tradition in full flower circa 1865. But going even further back in American history, Benjamin Franklin’s amateur experimentation with electricity arguably makes him the Founding Father of the American Technological Underground.
Now when an American has an idea, he directly seeks a second American to share it. If there be three, they elect a president and two secretaries. Given four, they name a keeper of records, and the office is ready for work; five, they convene a general meeting, and the club is fully constituted
So things were managed in Baltimore. The inventor of a new cannon associated himself with the caster and the borer. Thus was formed the nucleus of the "Gun Club." In a single month after its formation it numbered 1,833 effective members and 30,565 corresponding members.
One condition was imposed as a sine qua non upon every candidate for admission into the association, and that was the condition of having designed, or (more or less) perfected a cannon; or, in default of a cannon, at least a firearm of some description.
It may, however, be mentioned that mere inventors of revolvers, fire-shooting carbines, and similar small arms, met with little consideration. Artillerists always commanded the chief place of favor.
Bill's Commentary: Clubs and Associations
The idea of the Baltimore Gun Club, a fictional group of cannon technology enthusiasts is really not so far fetched. Today, there are clubs and governing associations for enthusiasts of just about every technological specialty. Even within the loosely organized confines of the Technology Underground, there is a need for people to bind together to share their knowledge, protect their interests, raise funds, and so on. There are associations for those who launch high powered rockets (Tripoli, NAR), build Tesla coils (Tesla Coil Builders Association), engage in robot combat (Robot Fighting League), and shoot pumpkins (World Championship Punkin’ Chunkers), replete with insurance coverage, safety inspections lobbying efforts, educational programs and so forth.
The estimation in which these gentlemen were held, according to one of the most scientific exponents of the Gun Club, was "proportional to the masses of their guns, and in the direct ratio of the square of the distances attained by their projectiles.
The Gun Club once founded, it is easy to conceive the result of the inventive genius of the Americans. Their military weapons attained colossal proportions, and their projectiles, exceeding the prescribed limits, unfortunately occasionally cut in two some unoffending pedestrians. These inventions, in fact, left far in the rear the timid instruments of European artillery.
It is but fair to add that these Yankees, brave as they have ever proved themselves to be, did not confine themselves to theories and formulae, but that they paid heavily, in propria persona, for their inventions. Among them were to be counted officers of all ranks, from lieutenants to generals; military men of every age, from those who were just making their debut in the profession of arms up to those who had grown old in the gun-carriage.
Bill's Comments: Earning your Chops:
Technology enthusiasts maintain a pecking order among themselves. In order to be respected and honored at the higher echelons among the other worthies who are involved in these activities, one must earn his status. The bigger the machine built, the better it looks, the louder, the faster, the more powerful; then better the machine is in the eyes of brethren builders, then the more glory that accrues to the maker.