Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Chap. XIV. IMMENSE CORRESPONDENCE. 255

and was very particular and precise as to the terms in which his letters must be written. He also had the power of labouring continuously at dictation; the gentleman who acted as his secretary in the year 1835, stating that, during his busy season, he one day dictated not fewer than thirtyseven letters, several of them embodying the results of much close thinking and calculation. On another occasion, he dictated reports and letters for twelve continuous hours, until his secretary was ready to drop off his chair from sheer exhaustion, and at length he pleaded for a suspension of the labour. This great mass of correspondence, although closely bearing on the subjects under discussion, was not, however, of a kind to supply the biographer with matter for quotation, or to give that insight into the life and character of the writer which the letters of literary men so often furnish. They were, for the most part, letters of mere business, relating to works in progress, parliamentary contests, new surveys, estimates of cost, and railway policy,—curt, and to the point; in short, the letters of a man, every moment of whose time was precious.

Hence, also, there is very little to record of Mr. Stephenson's private life during this busy period. For he had scarcely a moment that he could call his own. What with the business of his colliery, his locomotive manufactory, and the various railways of which he was the principal engineer, there was little time left for private intercourse. During the three years ending in 1837—perhaps the busiest years of his life—his secretary travelled with him by post-chaise alone upwards of twenty thousand miles, and yet six months of the whole time were spent in London. During this period he was engaged on the survey of the North Midland, extending from Derby to Leeds; the York and North Midland, from Normanton to York; the Manchester and Leeds; the Birmingham and Derby, and the Sheffield and Eotherham Eailways; the whole of these, of which he was principal engineer, having been authorised in 1836. In that session alone, powers were thus obtained to construct 214 miles of new railways at an expenditure of upwards of five 256 HIS OFFICE IN LONDON. Chap. XIV.

millions sterling. Fortunately Mr. Stephenson possessed a facility of sleeping, which enabled him to pass through this enormous amount of fatigue and labour without injury to his health. He had been trained in a hard school, and could bear with ease conditions which, to men more softly nurtured, would have been the extreme of physical discomfort. Many, many nights he snatched his sleep while travelling in his chaise; and at break of day he would be at work, surveying until dark, and this for weeks in succession. His whole powers seemed to be under the control of his will, for he could wake at any hour, and go to work at once. It was difficult for secretaries and assistants to keep up with such a man.

The amount of his parliamentary business having greatly increased with the projection of new lines of railway, Mr. Stephenson found it necessary to set up an office in London, in 1836; first at No. 9, Duke-street, Westminster, removed in the following year to 30$, Great George-street. That office was the busy scene of railway politics for several years, There consultations were held, schemes were matured, deputations were received, and many projectors called upon our engineer for the purpose of submitting their plans of railway working. During the same period in which he was occupied in carrying through Parliament the projects for which he was principally concerned as engineer in chief, ne was also called upon to give evidence in support of many lines, such as the Great Western, with which he was not immediately connected. "In fact," as he said to a Committee of the House of Commons in 1841, "there is hardly a railway in England that I have not had to do with."

The rapidity with which railways were carried out, when the spirit of the country was fairly up, was indeed remarkable. This was doubtless in some measure owing to the increased force of the current of speculation, but chiefly to the desire which the public now entertained for the general extension of the system. It was even proposed to fill up the canals, and convert them into railways.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][graphic][merged small]

258 MANCHESTER AND LEEDS BILL. Chap. XJV.

The new roads became the topic of conversation in all circles; they were felt to give a new value to time; their vast capabilities for "business" peculiarly recommended them to the trading classes; whilst the friends of "progress" dilated on the great benefits they would eventually confer upon mankind at large. It began to be seen that Mr. Edward Pease bad not been exaggerating when he said, "Let the country but make the railroads, and the railroads will make the country!" They also came to be regarded as inviting objects of investment to the thrifty, and a safe outlet for the accumulations of inert men of capital. Thus new avenues of iron road were soon in course of construction in all directions, branching north, south, east, and west, so that the country promised in a wonderfully short space of time to become wrapped in one vast network of iron.

Mr. Stephenson's principal attention was directed to the development of the system in the Northern Counties, leaving the south to the energy of his son. Besides the Grand Junction, he was, shortly after the completion of the Liverpool line, engaged in surveying and laying out a railway from Manchester to Leeds, with the object of forming a connexion between the principal towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. An attempt had been made to obtain an act for this purpose as early as the year 1831; but having been met by the powerful opposition of the landowners, aided by the canal companies, it was defeated, and was not revived until several years later. Mr. Stephenson, however, having carefully examined the entire district, had already determined in his own mind the route of the Manchester and Leeds line, and decided that no other was practicable, without the objectionable expedient of a tunnel three and a half miles in length under Blackstone Edge, and the additional disadvantage of heavy gradients. This line, as projected by him and afterwards considerably improved, was somewhat circuitous, and the works were heavy; but on the whole the gradients were favourable, and it had the advantage of passing through a district full

Chap. XIV. ATTACKED BY LORD WHAENCLIFFE. 259

of manufacturing towns and villages, teeming hives of population, industry, and enterprise. The act authorising the construction of the railway was finally obtained in the session of 1836: it was greatly amended in the succeeding year; and the first ground was broken on the 18th of August, 1837.

An incident occurred while the second Manchester and Leeds Bill was before the Committee of the Lords, which is worthy of passing notice in this place, as illustrative of Mr. Stephenson's character. The line which was authorised by Parliament in 1836 had been hastily surveyed within a period of less than six weeks; and before it received the royal assent, Mr. Stephenson became convinced that many important improvements might be made in it, and communicated his views to the directors. They determined, however, to obtain the act, although conscious at the time that they would have to go for a second and improved line in the following year. The second bill passed the Commons in 1837 without difficulty, and promised1 in like manner to receive the sanction of the Lords' Committee. Quite unexpectedly, however, Lord Wharncliffe, who was interested in the Manchester and Sheffield line, which passed through his colliery property in the south of Yorkshire, and conceived that the new Manchester and Leeds line might have some damaging effect, appeared as a strenuous opponent of the bill. He was himself a member of the Committee, and adopted the unusual course of rising to his feet, and making a set speech against the bill while Mr. Stephenson was under examination. After pointing out that the bill applied for and obtained in the preceding session was one that the promoters had no intention of carrying out, that they had secured it only for the purpose of obtaining possession of the ground and reducing the number of the opponents to their present application, and that in fact they had been practising a deception upon the House, his lordship turned full upon the witness, and, addressing him, said,—" I ask you, sir, do you call that conduct honest?" Mr. Stephenson, his voice trembling

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »