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Long Benton, were considerably interrupted by the accumulation of water. A windmill was put up for the purpose of driving a pumping apparatus, but it failed to draw the water. Stephenson was asked what they were to do in order to clear the quarry. He said "he would set up for them an engine no bigger than a kail-pot, that would clear them out in a week." And he did so. A little engine was speedily erected by him, and by its means the quarry was pumped dry in the course of a few days. Thus his local celebrity very soon became considerable.
48 SELF-CULTURE. Chat. IV.
KlLLINGWOBTH — SELF-CULTURE — Is APPOINTED ENGINE-WEIGHT OF THE COLLIEBY.
While thus daily engaged in the curing and working of pumping-engines, George Stephenson continued diligently to employ his evenings in self-improvement. When not occupied in cleaning clocks and watches, he was busy contriving models of steam-engines and pumping-engines, or attempting to master the mysteries of perpetual motion (which he had not yet given up), or endeavouring to embody in a tangible shape the mechanical inventions which he found described in the odd volumes on mechanics which came in his way.
He afterwards used to lament the time that he had lost in his perpetual-motion experiments, and said that if he enjoyed the opportunity which most young men now have, of learning from books what previous experimenters had accomplished, he would have been spared much labour and mortification. Not being acquainted with what other mechanics had done, he groped his way, often very much in the dark, in pursuit of some idea originated by his own independent thinking and observation; and, when he had brought it into some definite shape, lo! he found that his supposed invention had long been known and recorded in scientific books. Often he thought he had hit upon discoveries, which he subsequently found were but old and exploded fallacies. Yet the very effort to overcome the difficulties which lay in his way, was of itself an education of the best sort. By wrestling with them, he strengthened bis judgment and sharpened his skill, stimulating and cultivating his inventiveness and mechanical ingenuity. Being in earnest on the subject of his several inquiries, he was Chap. IV. JOHN WIGHAM. 49
compelled to consider it in all its relations; and this would not suffer him to be superficial. Thus he gradually acquired practical ability through his steadfast efforts even after the impracticable.
Many of his evenings were spent in the society of John Wigham, whose father occupied the Glebe farm at Benton, close at hand. John was a good penman and a good arithmetician, and Stephenson frequented his society chiefly for the purpose of improving himself in these points. Under Andrew Eobertson, he had never thoroughly mastered the Eule of Three, and it was only when Wigham took him in hand that he made any decided progress towards the higher branches of arithmetic. He generally took his slate with him to the Wighams' cottage, when he had his sums set, that he might work them out while tending the engine on the following day. When too busy with other work to be able to call upon Wigham in person, he sent the slate by a fellow-workman to have the former sums corrected and new ones set. So much patient perseverance could not but eventually succeed; and by dint of practice and study, Stephenson was enabled successively to master the various rules of arithmetic.
John Wigham was of great use to his pupil in many ways. He was a good talker, fond of argument, an extensive reader as country reading went in those days, and a very suggestive thinker. Though his store of information might be comparatively small when measured with that of more highly-cultivated minds, much of it was entirely new to Stephenson, who regarded him as a very clever and extraordinary person. Young as John Wigham was, he could give much useful assistance to Stephenson at that time, and his neighbourly services were worth untold gold to the eager pupil. Wigham taught him to draw plans and sections; though in this branch Stephenson proved so apt that he soon surpassed his master. Wigham was also a little versed in Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, and a volume of Ferguson's Lectures on Mechanics which he possessed was a great treasure to both the students. One
50 SOBRIETY AND THRIFT. Chap. IV.
who remembers their evening occupations says he used to wonder what they meant by weighing the air and water in their odd way. They were trying the specific gravities of objects; and the devices which they employed, the mechanical shifts to which they were put, were often of the rudest kind. In these evening entertainments, the mechanical contrivances were supplied by Stephenson, whilst Wigham found the scientific rationale. The opportunity thus afforded to the former of cultivating his mind by contact with one wiser than himself proved of great value, and in after-life Stephenson gratefully remembered the assistance which, when a humble workman, he had derived from John Wigham the farmer's son.
His leisure moments thus carefully improved, it will be inferred that Stephenson was necessarily a sober man. Though his notions were never extreme on this point, he was systematically temperate. It appears that on the invitation of his master, Ealph Dodds,—and an invitation from a master to a workman is not easy to resist,—he had, on one or two occasions, been induced to join him in a forenoon glass of ale in the public-house of the village. But one day, about noon, when Mr. Dodds had got him as far as the public-house door, on his invitation to "come and take a glass o' yel," Stephenson made a dead stop, and said, firmly, "No, sir, you must excuse me; I have made a resolution to drink no more at this time of day." And he went back. He desired to retain the character of a steady workman; and the instances of men about him who had made shipwreck of their character through intemperance, were then, as now, unhappily but too frequent. Perhaps, too, he was sober with an eye to thrift. He still steadily kept in mind the resolution which he had formed to give his son a good education, and Eobert was now of an age to be sent to a better school than that which the neighbouring village of Long Benton provided. There he had been some time under the charge of Eutter, the parish clerk, who kept a road-side school, where the instruction was of a very limited kind—scarcely extending beyond the child's
Chap. IV. - HIS COTTAGE AT WEST MOOR. 51
primer and "pot-hooks." About the year 1814, Eobert was accordingly sent to Bruce's academy at Newcastle, where he commenced a course of sound elementary instruction; and many still remember seeing him in his homely grey suit, riding on his donkey to and from school, morning and evening.
By dint of extra labour during his bye-hours, with this object, George Stephenson had managed to save a sum of 1001., which he accumulated in guineas, each of which he afterwards sold to Jews who went about buying up gold coins (then dearer than silver), at twenty-six shillings apiece; and he lent out the proceeds at interest. He was now, therefore, a comparatively thriving man. The first guinea which he had saved with so much difficulty at Black Callerton had proved the nest-egg of future guineas; and the habits of economy and sobriety which he had so early cultivated, now enabled him to secure a firmer foothold in the world, and to command the increased esteem and respect of his fellow-workmen and employers.
At this time, and for many years after, Stephenson dwelt in a cottage standing by the side of the road leading from the West Moor Pit to Killingworth. The railway from the West Moor Pit crosses this road close by the easternmost end of the cottage. The dwelling originally consisted of but one apartment on the ground-floor, with a garret overhead, to which access was obtained by means of a stepladder. But with his own hands Stephenson built an oven, and in the course of time he added rooms to the cottage, until it grew into a comfortable four-roomed dwelling, in which he continued to live as long as he resided at .Killingworth.
He continued as fond of birds and animals as ever, and seemed to have the power of attaching them to him in a remarkable degree. He had a blackbird at Killingworth so fond of him, that it would fly about the cottage, and on holding out his finger, the bird would come and perch upon it directly. A cage was built for "blackie" in the partition between the passage and the room, a square of glass forming