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bution by George and the other labourers at the pit. It was one of their greatest treats to induce some one to read to them by the engine-fire, out of any book or stray newspaper which might find its way into the village of Newburn. Buonaparte was then overrunning Italy, and astounding Europe by his brilliant succession of victories; and the] e was no more eager auditor of these exploits, when read from the newspaper accounts, than the young engine-man at the Water-row Pit.
Kdwburn Cliurdl and Villayt-.
There were also numerous stray bits of information and intelligence contained in these papers, which excited Stephenson's interest. One of these related to the Egyptian art of hatching birds' eggs by means of artificial heat. Curious about everything relating to birds, he determined to test the art by experiment. It was spring time, and he forthwith went a birdnesting in the adjoining woods and hedges, where there were few birds' nests of which he did not know. He brought a collection of eggs of all kinds into tke enginehouse, set them in flour in a warm place, covering the whole Chap. II. RESOLVES TO LEARN TO READ. 23
over with wool, and then waited the issue of his experiment. But though the heat was kept as steady as possible, and the eggs were carefully turned every twelve hours, they never hatched. The eggs chipped, and some of them exhibited well-grown chicks; but none of the birds came forth alive, and thus the experiment failed. This incident, however, shows that the inquiring mind of the youth was now fairly at work.
Another of his favourite occupations continued to be the modelling of clay engines. He not only tried to model engines which he had himself seen, but he also attempted to form models in clay of engines which were described to him as being in existence; and doubtless his modelling at this time, imperfect though his knowledge was, exhibited considerable improvement upon his first attempts in the art when a herd-boy in the bog at Dewley Burn. He was told, however, that all the wonderful engines of Watt and Boulton, about which he was so anxious to know, were to be found described in books, and that he must satisfy his curiosity by searching the publications of the day for a more complete description of them. But, alas! Stephenson could not read; he had not yet learnt even his letters.
Thus he shortly found, when gazing wistfully in the direction of knowledge, that to advance further as a skilled workman, he must master this wonderful art of reading— the key to so many other arts. He would thus be enabled to gain an access to books, the depositories of the experience and wisdom of all times. Although now a grown man and doing the work of a man, he was not ashamed to confess his ignorance, and go to school, big as he was, to learn his letters. Perhaps, too, he foresaw that, in laying out a little of his spare earnings for this purpose, he was investing money judiciously, and that, every hour he spent at school, he was really working for better wages. At all events, he determined to make a beginning—a small beginning, it is true, but still a right one, and a pledge and assurance that he was in earnest in the work of self-culture. He desired to find a road into knowledge; and no man can sincerely desire this but he will eventually succeed. He 24 GOES TO SCHOOL. Chap. II.
possessed that will and purpose which are the invariable forerunners of success.
His first schoolmaster was Eobin Cowens, a poor teacher in the village of Walbottle. He kept a night-school, which was attended by a few of the colliers and labourers' sons in the neighbourhood. George took lessons in spelling and reading three nights in the week. Tommy Musgrove, the lad who "sled out" the engine at the Water-row Pit, usually went with him to the evening lesson. This teaching of Eobin Cowens cost threepence a week; and though it was not very good, yet George, being hungry for knowledge, and eager to acquire it, soon learnt to read. He also practised "pot-hooks," and at the age of nineteen he was proud to be able to write his own name.
A Scotch dominie, named Andrew Eobertson, set up a night-school in the village of Newburn, in the winter of 1799. It was more convenient for George Stephenson to attend this school, as it was nearer to his work, and not more than a few minutes' walk from Jolly's Close. Besides, Andrew had the reputation of being a skilled arithmetician; and this was a branch of knowledge that Stephenson was now desirous of acquiring. He accordingly began taking lessons from him, paying fourpence a week. Eobert Gray, the junior fireman at the Water-row Pit, began arithmetic at the same time; and he has since told the writer that George learnt "figuring " so much faster than he did, that he could not make out how it was—"he took to figures so wonderful." Although the two started together from the same point, at the end of the winter George had mastered "reduction," while Eobert Gray was still grappling with the difficulties of simple division. But George's secret was his perseverance. He worked out the sums in his bye-hours, improving every minute of his spare time by the engine-, fire, there solving the arithmetical problems set for him upon his slate by the master. In the evenings he took to Andrew Eobertson the sums which he had thus "worked," and new ones were "set " for him to study out the following day. Thus his progress was rapid, and, with a willing heart and mind, he soon became well advanced in arithmeChap. II. HIS DOG. 25
tic. Indeed, Andrew Robertson became somewhat proud of his pupil; and shortly afterwards, when the Water-row Pit was closed, and George removed to Black Callerton to work there, the poor schoolmaster, not having a very extensive connexion in Newburn, went with his pupils, and set up his night-school at Black Callerton, where they continued to be instructed by him as before.
George still found time to attend to his favourite animals while workingat the Water-row Pit. He kept up his breed of rabbits, and even drove a small trade in them, selling portions of his stock from time to time. Like his father, he used to tempt the robin-redbreasts to hop and fly about him at the engine-fire, by the bait of bread-crumbs saved from his dinner. But his favourite animal was his dog—so sagacious that he performed the office of a servant, in almost daily carrying his dinner to him at the pit. The tin containing the meal was suspended from the dog's neck, and, thus laden, he proudly walked the road from Jolly's Close to Water-row Pit, quite through the village of Newburn. He turned neither to left nor right, nor minded for the time the barking of curs at his heels. But his course was not unattended with perils. One day the big strange dog of a passing butcher espied the engineman's messenger, ran after him, and fell upon him with the tin can about his neck. There was a terrible tussle and worrying between the dogs, which lasted for a brief while, and, shortly after, the dog's master, anxious for his dinner, saw his faithful servant approaching, bleeding but triumphant. The tin can was still round his neck, but the dinner had escaped in the struggle. Though George went without his dinner that day, yet when the circumstances of the combat were related to him by the villagers who had seen it, he was prouder of his dog than ever.
It was while working at the Water-row Pit that Stephenson first learnt the art of brakeing an engine. This being one of the higher departments of colliery labour, and amongst the best paid, George was very anxious to learn it. A small winding engine having been put up for the purpose of drawing the coals from the pit, Bill Coe, his friend and fellow-workman, was appointed the brakesman. 26 MADE BRAKESMAN. Chap. II.
He frequently allowed George to try his hand at the brake, and instructed him how to proceed. But in this course, Coe was opposed by several of the other workmen—one of whom, a brakesman named William Locke, went so far as to stop the working of the pit because Stephenson had been called in to the brake. But one day as Mr. Charles Nixon, the manager of the pit, was observed approaching, Coe adopted an expedient which had the effect of putting a stop to the opposition. He forthwith called upon George Stephenson to "come into the brake-house, and take hold of the machine." No sooner had he done this, than Locke, as usual, sat down, and the working of the pit was stopped. Locke, when requested by the manager to give an explanation, said that "young Stephenson couldn't brake, and, what was more, never would learn to brake: he was so clumsy that he was like to rive his arms off." Mr. Nixon, however, ordered Locke to go on with the work, which he did; and Stephenson, after some further practice, acquired the art of brakeing.
After working at the Water-row Pit and at other engines in the neighbourhood of Newburn, for about three years, George, with his companion Coe, went to work at Black Callerton in the year 1801. Though only twenty years of age, his employers thought so well of him that they then appointed him to the responsible office of brakesman at the Dolly Pit* For convenience' sake, he took lodgings at a small farmer's in the village, finding his own victuals, and paying so much a week for lodging and attendance. In the locality this was called " picklin in his awn poke neuck." It not unfrequently happens that the young workman about the colleries, when selecting a lodging, contrives to pitch his tent where the daughter of the house ultimately becomes his wife. This is often the real attraction that draws the youth from home, though a very different one may be pretended.
George Stephenson's duties as brakesman may be briefly described. The work was somewhat monotonous, and consisted in superintending the working of the engine and machinery by means of which the coals were drawn out of the pit. Brakesmen are almost invariably selected from