During the Federal war in the United States a new and very influential club was established in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. It is well known with what energy the military instinct was developed amongst that nation of shipowners, shopkeepers, and mechanics. Mere tradesmen jumped their counters to become extempore captains, colonels, and generals without having passed the Military School at West Point; they soon rivalled their colleagues of the old continent, and, like them, gained victories by dint of lavishing bullets, millions, and men.
But where Americans singularly surpassed Europeans was in the science of ballistics, or of throwing massive weapons by the use of an engine; not that their arms attained a higher degree of perfection, but they were of unusual dimensions, and consequently of hitherto unknown ranges. The English, French, and Prussians have nothing to learn about flank, running, enfilading, or point-blank firing; but their cannon, howitzers, and mortars are mere pocket-pistols compared with the formidable engines of American artillery.
This fact ought to astonish no one. The Yankees, the first mechanicians in the world, are born engineers, just as Italians are musicians and Germans metaphysicians. Thence nothing more natural than to see them bring their audacious ingenuity to bear on the science of ballistics. Hence those gigantic cannon, much less useful than sewing-machines, but quite as astonishing, and much more admired. The marvels of this style by Parrott, Dahlgren, and Rodman are well known. There was nothing left the Armstrongs, Pallisers, and Treuille de Beaulieux but to bow before their transatlantic rivals.
Therefore during the terrible struggle between Northerners and Southerners, artillerymen were in great request; the Union newspapers published their inventions with enthusiasm, and there was no little tradesman nor naif “booby” who did not bother his head day and night with calculations about impossible trajectory engines.
Now when an American has an idea he seeks another American to share it. If they are three, they elect a president and two secretaries. Given four, they elect a clerk, and a company is established. Five convoke a general meeting, and the club is formed. It thus happened at Baltimore. The first man who invented a new cannon took into partnership the first man who cast it and the first man that bored it. Such was the nucleus of the Gun Club. One month after its formation it numbered eighteen hundred and thirty-three effective members, and thirty thousand five hundred and seventy-five corresponding members.
One condition was imposed as a sine qua non upon every one who wished to become a member–that of having invented, or at least perfected, a cannon; or, in default of a cannon, a firearm of some sort. But, to tell the truth, mere inventors of fifteen-barrelled rifles, revolvers, or sword-pistols did not enjoy much consideration. Artillerymen were always preferred to them in every circumstance.
“The estimation in which they are held,” said one day a learned orator of the Gun Club, “is in proportion to the size of their cannon, and in direct ratio to the square of distance attained by their projectiles!”
A little more and it would have been Newton’s law of gravitation applied to moral order.
Brief Biography: Verne was a profound influence in the science fiction genre. He is the second most translated author in the world. Verne trained as a lawyer but quit the legal profession to pursue a writing career. In later life Verne entered politics and served as a town councillor championing social improvements.