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280 HIS APPRECIATION OF TALENT. Chap. XIV.
that, in his opinion, a locomotive machine might, with safety, travel upon a railway at a speed of ten miles an hour, he was told that his evidence was not worth listening to. That, however, did not prevent him going forward with his plans, and they had for themselves seen, that day, what perseverance had brought him to. He was, on that occasion, only too happy to have an opportunity of acknowledging that he had, in the latter portion of his career, received much most valuable assistance, particularly from young men brought up in his manufactory. Whenever talent showed itself in a young man, he had always given that talent encouragement where he could, and he would continue to do so."
That this was no exaggerated statement, is amply proved by facts which redound to Mr. Stephenson's credit. He was no niggard of encouragement and praise when he saw honest industry struggling for a footing. Many were the young men whom, in the course of his useful career, he took by the hand and led steadily up to honour and emolument, simply because he had noted their zeal, diligence, and integrity. One youth excited his interest while working as a common carpenter on the Liverpool and Manchester line; and before many years had passed, he was recognised as an engineer of distinction. Another young man he found industriously working away at his bye-hours, and, admiring his diligence, engaged him for his private secretary; the gentleman shortly after rising to a position of eminent influence and usefulness. Indeed, nothing gave Mr. Stephenson greater pleasure than in this way to help on any deserving youth who came under his observation, and, in his own expressive phrase, to "make a man of him."
The openings of the great main lines of railroad communication shortly proved the fallaciousness of the numerous rash prophecies which had been promulgated by the opponents of railways. The proprietors of the canals were astounded by the feet that, notwithstanding the immense traffic conveyed by rail, their own traffic and receipts continued to increase; and that in common with other interests, they fully shared in the expansion of trade and commerce which had Chap. XIV. RESULTS OF RAILWAY COMMUNICATION. 281
been so effectually promoted by the extension of the railway system. The cattle-owners were equally amazed to find the price of horse-flesh increasing with the extension of railways, and that the number of coaches running to and from the new railway-stations gave employment to a greater number of horses than under the old stage-coach system. Those who had prophesied the decay of the metropolis, and the ruin of the suburban cabbage-growers, in consequence of the approach of railways to London, were also disappointed. For, whilst the new roads let citizens out of London, they let country-people in. Their action, in this respect, was centripetal as well as centrifugal. Tens of thousands who had never seen the metropolis could now visit it expeditiously and cheaply. And Londoners who had never visited the country, or but rarely, were enabled, at little cost of time or money, to see green fields and clear blue skies, far from the smoke and bustle of town. If the dear suburban-grown cabbages became depreciated in value, there were truck-loads of fresh-grown country cabbages to make amends for the loss: in this case, the " partial evil " was a far more general good. The food of the metropolis became rapidly improved, especially in the supply of wholesome meat and vegetables. And then the price of coals—an article which, in this country, is as indispensable as daily food to all classes—was greatly reduced. What a blessing to the metropolitan poor is described in this single fact!
The prophecies of ruin and disaster to landlords and farmers were equally confounded by the openings of the railways. The agricultural communications, so far from being " destroyed," as had been predicted, were immensely improved. The farmers were enabled to buy their coals, lime, and manure, for less money, whilst they obtained a readier access to the best markets for their stock and farmproduce. Notwithstanding the predictions to the contrary, their cows gave milk as before, their sheep fed and fattened, and even skittish horses ceased to shy at the passing locomotive. The smoke of the engines did not obscure the sky, nor were farmyards burnt up by the fire thrown from the 282 ADVANTAGES TO LANDOWNERS. Chap. XTV.
locomotives. The farming classes were not reduced, to beggary; on the contrary, they soon felt that, so far from having anything to dread, they had very much good to expect from the extension of railways.
Landlords also found that they could get higher rents for farms situated near a railway, than at a distance from one. Hence they became clamorous for " sidings." They felt it to be a grievance to be placed at a distance from a station. After a railway had been once opened, not a landlord would consent to have the line taken from him. Owners who had fought the promoters before Parliament, and compelled them to pass their domains at a distance, at a vastly-increased expense in tunnels and deviations, now petitioned for branches and nearer station accommodation. Those who held property near towns, and had extorted large sums as compensation for the anticipated deterioration in the value of their building land, found a new demand for it springing up at greatly advanced prices. Land was now advertised for sale, with the attraction of being " near a railway station."
The prediction that, even if railways were made, the public would not use them, was also completely falsified by the results. The ordinary mode of fast travelling for the middle classes had heretofore been by mail-coach and stagecoach. Those who could not afford to pay the high prices charged for such conveyances went by waggon, and the poorer classes trudged on foot. George Stephenson was wont to say that he hoped to see the day when it would be cheaper for a poor man to travel by railway than to walk; and not many years passed before his expectation was fulfilled. In no country in the world is time worth more money than in England; and by saving time—the criterion of distance—the railway proved a great benefactor to men of industry in all classes.
Many deplored the inevitable downfall of the old stagecoach system. There was to be an end of that delightful variety of incident usually attendant on a journey by road. The rapid scamper across a fine country on the outside of the four-horse " Express," or "Highflyer ;" the seat on the box Chap. XIV. THE STAGE-COACH AND THE RAILWAY. 283
beside Jehu, or the equally coveted place near the facetious guard behind; the journey amid open green fields, through smiling villages and fine old towns, where the stage stopped to change horses and the passengers to dine,—was all very delightful in its way; and many regretted that this oldfashioned and pleasant style of travelling was about to pass away. But it had its dark side also. Any one who remembers the journey by stage from London to Manchester or York, will associate it with recollections and sensations of not unmixed delight. To be perched for twenty hours, exposed to all weathers, on the outside of a coach, trying in vain to find a soft seat—sitting now with the face to the wind, rain, or sun, and now with the back—without any shelter such as the commonest penny-a-mile parliamentary train now daily provides,—was a miserable undertaking, looked forward to with horror by many whose business required them to travel frequently between the provinces and the metropolis. Nor were the inside passengers more agreeably accommodated. To be closely packed up in a little, inconvenient, straight-backed vehicle, where the cramped limbs could not be in the least extended, nor the wearied frame indulge in any change of posture, was felt by many to be a terrible thing. Then there were the constantly-recurring demands, not always couched in the politest terms, for an allowance to the driver every two or three stages, and to the guard every six or eight; and if the gratuity did not equal their expectations, growling and open abuse were not unusual. These desagremens, together with the exactions practised on travellers by innkeepers, seriously detracted from the romance of stage-coach travelling; and there was a general disposition on the part of the public to change the system for a better.
The avidity with which the public at once availed themselves of the railways proved that this better system had been discovered. Notwithstanding the reduction of the coach fares on many of the roads to one-third of their previous rate, the public preferred travelling by the railway. They saved in time; and they saved in money, taking the whole expenses 284 STAGE-COACH ACCIDENT. Chap. XIV.
into account. In point of comfort there could be no doubt as to the infinite superiority of the railway carriage. But there remained the question of safety, which had been a great bugbear with the early opponents of railways, and was made the most of by the coach-proprietors to deter the public from using them. It was predicted that trains of passengers would be blown to pieces, and that none but fools would entrust their persons to the conduct of an explosive machine such as the locomotive. It appeared, however, that during the first eight years not fewer than five millions of passengers had been conveyed along the Liverpool and Manchester Eailway, and of this vast number only two persons had lost their lives by accident. During the same period, the loss of life by the upsetting of stage-coaches had been immensely greater in proportion. The public were not slow, therefore, to detect the fact, that travelling by railways was greatly safer than travelling by common road; and in all districts penetrated by railways the coaches were very shortly taken off for want of support.
Mr. Stephenson himself had a narrow escape in one of the stage-coach accidents so common twenty years ago, but which are already almost forgotten. While the Birmingham line was under construction, he had occasion to travel from Ashby-de-la-Zouch to London by coach. He was an inside passenger with several others; and the outsides were pretty numerous. When within ten miles of Dunstable, he felt, from the rolling of the coach, that one of the linchpins securing the wheels had given way, and that the vehicle must upset. He endeavoured so to fix himself in his seat, holding on firmly by the arm-straps, that he might save himself on whichever side the coach fell. The coach soon toppled over, and fell crash upon the road, amidst the shrieks of his fellow-passengers and the smashing of glass. He immediately pulled himself up by the arm-strap above him, let down the coach window, and climbed out The coachman and passengers lay scattered about on the road, stunned, and some of them bleeding, whilst the horses were plunging in their harness. Taking out his pocket-knife, he at once cut