22 NOVEMBER 1930, Page 41


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] Sin,—I am sorry that my friend Colonel Vignoles, in his capacity as Director of the British Electrical Development .Association, should have thought it necessary, when inter- vening between Major Yeats-Brown and myself, to follow the common plan of advocates of electricity of decrying and defaming its competitor. There is a wide field of public utility for both gas and electricity in this country—two alternative forms of the energy derivable from its one native source of power, coal.

We of the gas industry do not seek to minimize either the actual or the potential services of electricity to the nation. All we ask is that they shall not be wildly exaggerated, as they have been and are being exaggerated, by politicians and other not too well-informed advocates, to the accompani- ment of untrue statements as to comparative costs. The following passage from the classic work of Stanley Jevons on The Coal Question is as true to-day as it was when it was written :

" There is a large class of persons whose vague notions of the powers of nature lay them open to the adoption of paradoxical suggestions. The fallacious notions afloat on the subject of elec- tricity especially are unconquerable. Electricity, in short, is to the present age what the perpetual motion was to an age not far removed. People are so astonished at the subtle manifestations of electrio power, that they think the more miraculous effects they anticipate from it the more profound the appreciation of its nature they show. But then they generally take that one step too much which the contrivers of the perpetual motion took—they treat electricity not only as a marvellous mode of distributing power, they treat it as a source of self-creating power."

The same point was made just after the War by that great scientist and master mind Lord Moulton, who Said :

" I have often noticed bow the world, from time to time, goes mad over some one thing. There was a time when all the pharma- copoeia was considered to be summed up in tar water, which cured everything. People do not realize that panaceas do not exist in nature. Each thing has its own special properties and utilities, and the probability is that a higher civilization will make use of very many means of accomplishing its aims, because its aims are so varied, and, it wants to use each thing in the way in which its special utilities enable it to be used. That was the lesson to be learned from the apparent rivalry of gas and electricity in rendering coal as serviceable as possible to mankind. The one might be better under some circumstances, but the idea of the one driving out the other would be distinctly retrograde."

I will only add, to answer a libel that only needs to be answered since Colonel Vignoles has thought fit to revive it, that the suggestion that food is contaminated when cooked by gas (the means adopted by the most fastidious of chefs in the most famous kitchens) was examined and found to be without a particle of truth by The Lancet a generation ago.

—I am, Sir, &c., FRANCIS GOODENOUGH. The British Commercial Gas Association, 28 Grosvenor Gardens, S.W. 1.