« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Chap. XI. ROUTINE OF HIS LIFE. 195
but against the still more trying obstructions of deeplyrooted mistrust and prejudice on the part of a considerable minority of the directors.
The usual routine of his life at this time—if routine it might be called—was, to rise early, by sunrise in summer and before it in winter, and thus "break the back of the day's work" by mid-day. Before breakfast he would visit the extensive workshops at Edgehill, where most of the "plant" for the line was manufactured. Then, returning home, after a hurried breakfast, he would ride along the works to inspect their progress, and push them on with greater energy where needful. On other days he would prepare for the much less congenial engagement of meeting the board, which was often a cause of great anxiety and pain to him; for it was difficult to satisfy men of all tempers, and some of these not of the most generous sort. On such occasions he might be seen with his right-hand thumb thrust through the topmost button-hole of his coatbreast, vehemently hitching his right shoulder, as was his habit when labouring under any considerable excitement. Occasionally he would take an early ride before breakfast, to inspect the progress of the Sankey viaduct. He had a favourite horse, brought by him from Newcastle, called "Bobby,"—so tractable that, with his rider on his back, he would walk up to a locomotive with the steam blowing off, and put his nose against it without shying. "Bobby," saddled and bridled, was brought to Mr. Stephenson's door betimes in the morning; and mounting him, he would ride the fifteen miles to Sankey, putting up at a little public house which then stood upon the banks of the canal. There he had his breakfast of "crowdie,' which he made with his own hands. It consisted of oatmeal stirred into a basin of hot water,—a sort of porridge,—which was supped with cold sweet milk. After this frugal breakfast, he would go upon the works, and remain there, riding from point to point for the greater part of the day. If he returned home before mid-day, it would be to examine the pay-sheets in the different depart196 ROUTINE OF HIS LIFE. Chap. XI.
ments, sent in. by the assistant engineers, or by the foremen of the workshops; all this he did himself, with the greatest care, requiring a full explanation of every item.
After a late dinner, which occupied very short time and was always of a plain and frugal description, he would proceed to dispose of his correspondence, or prepare sketches of drawings, and give instructions as to their completion. He would occasionally refresh himself for this evening work by a short doze, which, however, he would never admit had exceeded the limits of "winking," to use his own term. Mr. Frederick Swanwick, one of his most rising pupils, officiated as his amanuensis; and he then remarked—what in after years he could better appreciate—the clear, terse, and vigorous style of his dictation; there was nothing superfluous in it; but it was close, direct, and to the point,—in short, thoroughly business-like. And if, in passing through the pen of the amanuensis, his meaning happened in any way to be distorted or modified, it did not fail to escape his detection, though he was always tolerant of any liberties taken with his own form of expression, so long as the words written down conveyed his real meaning. His strong natural acumen showed itself even in such matters as grammar and composition,—a department of knowledge in which, it might be supposed, he could scarcely have had either time or opportunity to acquire much information. But here, as in all other things, his shrewd common sense came to his help; and his simple, vigorous English might almost be cited as a model of composition.
His letters and reports written, and his sketches of drawings made and explained, the remainder of the evening was usually devoted to conversation with his wife and those of his pupils who lived under his roof, and constituted, as it were, part of the family. He delighted to test the knowledge of his young companions, and to question them upon the principles of mechanics. If they were not quite "up to the mark" on every point, there was no escaping detection by any evasive or specious explanations Chap. XI. HIS EVENINGS AT HOME. 197
on their part. These always met with the verdict of, "Ah! you know nought about it now; hut think it over again, and tell me the answer when you understand it." If there was even partial success in the reply, it would at once be acknowledged, and a full explanation was given, to which the master would add illustrative examples for the purpose of impressing the principle more deeply upon the pupil's mind.
It was not so much his object and purpose to " cram" the minds of the young men committed to his charge with the results of knowledge, as to stimulate them to educate themselves—to induce them to develope their mental and moral powers by the exercise of their own free energies, and thus acquire that habit of self-thinking and selfreliance which is the spring of all true manly action. In a word, he sought to bring out and invigorate the character of his pupils. He felt that he himself had been made stronger and better through his encounters with difficulty; and he would not have the road of knowledge made too smooth and easy for them. "Learn for yourselves,—think for yourselves," he would say ;—" make yourselves masters of principles,—persevere,—be industrious,—and there is then no fear of you." And not the least emphatic proof of the soundness of this system of education, as conducted by Mr. Stephenson, was afforded by the after history of these pupils themselves. There was not one of those trained under his eye who did not rise to eminent usefulness and distinction as an engineer. He sent them forth into the world braced with the spirit of manly self-help—inspired by his own noble example; and they repeated in their after career the lessons of earnest effort and persistent industry which his own daily life had taught them.
Mr. Stephenson's evenings at home were not, however, exclusively devoted either to business or to the graver exercises above referred to. He would often indulge in cheerful conversation and anecdote, falling back from time to time upon the struggles and difficulties of his early 198 HIS EVENINGS AT HOME. CnAP. XI.
life. The not unfrequent winding tip of his story, addressed to the pupils about him, was—"Ah! ye young fellows don't know what wark is in these days!" Mr. Swanwick delights recalling to mind how seldom, if ever, an angry or captious word, or an angry look, marred the enjoyment of those evenings. The presence of Mrs. Stephenson conferred upon them an additional charm: amiable, kind-hearted, and intelligent, she shared quietly in the pleasure; and the atmosphere of comfort which always prevaded her home, contributed in no small degree to render it a centre of cheerful, hopeful intercourse, and of earnest, honest industry. She was a wife who well deserved, what she through life retained, the strong and unremitting affection of her husband.
When Mr. Stephenson retired for the night, it was not always that he permitted himself to sink into slumber. Like Brindley, he worked out many a difficult problem in bed; and for hours he would turn over in his mind and study how to overcome some obstacle, or to mature some project, on which his thoughts were bent. Some remark inadvertently dropped by him at the breakfast-table in the morning, served to show that he had been stealing some hours from the past night in reflection and study. Yet ho would rise at his accustomed early hour, and there was no abatement of his usual energy in carrying on the business of the day.
Such is a brief sketch of Mr. Stephenson's private life and habits while carrying on the works of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Chap. XII. PREJUDICE AGAINST LOCOMOTIVES. 199
The Battle Of The Locomotive — The Rocket.
The works were far advanced towards completion before the directors had determined on the kind of tractive power to be employed in working the railway when opened for traffic. It was necessary that they should now come to a decision, and many board meetings were held for the purpose of discussing the subject. The old-fashioned and welltried system of horse haulage was not without its advocates; but., looking at the large amount of traffic which there was to be conveyed, and at the probable delay in the transit from station to station if this method were adopted, the directors, after a visit made by them to the Northumberland and Durham railways in 1828, came to the conclusion that the employment of horse power was inadmissible.
The tunnel at Liverpool had been finished, a firm road had been formed over Chat Moss, and yet the directors had got no further than this decision against the employment of horse power. It was felt that some mechanical agency must be adopted; but whether fixed or locomotive power, was still a moot point. Fixed engines had many advocates, the locomotive very few: it stood as yet almost in a minority of one—George Stephenson. The prejudice against the employment of the latter power had even increased since the Liverpool and Manchester Bill underwent its first ordeal in the House of Commons. In proof of this, we may mention that the Newcastle and Carlisle Eailway Act was conceded in 1829, on the express condition that it should not be worked by locomotives, but by horses only.
Grave doubts existed as to the practicability of working a large traffic by means of travelling engines. The most celebrated engineers offered no opinion on the subject.