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Chap. IV. EDUCATION OF HIS SON. 57
proved of great value to him. The practical study which he had given to it when a workman, and the patient manner in which he had groped his way through all the details of the machine, gave him the power of a master in dealing with it as applied to colliery purposes. His shrewd insight, together with his intimate practical acquaintance with its mechanism, enabled him to apprehend, as if by intuition, its most abtruse and difficult combinations.
Sir Thomas Liddell was frequently about the works, and he encouraged Stephenson greatly in his efforts after improvement. The subject of the locomotive engine was already closely occupying his attention; although as yet it was regarded very much in the light of a curious and costly toy, of comparatively small practical use. But Stephenson from the first detected the value of the machine, and formed an adequate conception of the gigantic might which as yet slumbered within it; and he was not slow in bending the whole faculties of his mind to the development of its extraordinary powers.
Meanwhile, the education of his son Eobert proceeded apace, and the father contrived to make his progress instrumental in promoting his own improvement. The youth continued for about three years to attend Bruce's school, where he made steady progress. The education was expensive; but his father did not grudge it, for he held that the best legacy he could leave his son was a well-disciplined, carefully-cultivated mind. Eobert was entered a member of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Institution, the subscription to which was SI. 3s. a year. He spent much of his leisure time there, reading and studying; and on Saturday afternoons, when he went home to his father's at Killingworth, he usually carried with him a volume of the Eepertory of Arts and Sciences, or of the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, which furnished abundant subjects for interesting and instructive converse during the evening hours. Then John Wigham would come over from the Glebe farm to join the party, and enter into the lively scientific discussions which occurred on the subjects of their mutual read
ing. But many of the most valuable works belonging to the Newcastle Library were not permitted to be removed from the room; these Robert was instructed to read and study, and bring away with him descriptions and sketches for his father's information. His father also practised him in the reading of plans and drawings without at all referring to the written descriptions. He used to observe to his son, "A good drawing or plan should always explain itself;" and, placing a drawing of an engine or machine before the youth, he would say, " There, now, describe that to me—the arrangement and the action." Thus he taught him to read a drawing as easily as he would read a page of a book. This practice soon gave to both the greatest facility in apprehending the details of even the most difficult and complicated mechanical drawing.
On one occasion they determined to construct a sun-dial for the front of the cottage at West Moor. Eobert brought
home Ferguson's "Astronomy," and, under his father's directions, he carefully drew out on paper a dial suited to
Chap. IV. THE REV. MR. TURNER. 59
the latitude of Killingworth; then a suitable stone was procured, and, after much hewing and polishing, the stone dial was at length completed, and fixed immediately over the cottage door, greatly to the wonderment of the villagers. It stands there yet; and we trust it will be long before it is removed. The date carved upon it is "August 11th, Mdcccxvi "—a year or two before Eobert left school. George Stephenson was very proud of that sun-dial, for it had cost him much thought and labour; and, in its way, it was a success.
The son, like his father, was very fond of reducing his scientific reading to practice. On one occasion, after reading Franklin's description of the lightning experiment, he expended all his hoarded Saturday's pennies in purchasing about half a mile of copper wire at a brazier's shop in Newcastle. After privily preparing his kite, he sent it up at the cottage door, insulating the wire by means of a few feet of silk cord. His father's pony was standing near, waiting for the master to mount. Bringing the end of the wire just over the pony's crupper, so smart an electric shock was given it, that the brute was almost knocked down. At this juncture the father issued from the door with riding-whip in hand, and was witness to the scientific trick just played off upon his galloway. "Ah! you mischievous scoondrel!" cried he to the boy, who ran off. He inwardly chuckled with pride, nevertheless, at his son's successful experiment.
The connexion of Eobert with the Philosophical and Literary Society of Newcastle brought him into communication with the Eev. William Turner, one of the secretaries of the institution. That gentleman was always ready to assist the inquirer after knowledge, and took an early interest in the studious youth from Killingworth, with whose father he also soon became acquainted. Mr. Turner cheerfully and even zealously helped them in their joint inquiries, and excited while he endeavoured to satisfy their eager thirst for scientific information. Many years afterwards, towards the close of his life, Mr. Stephenson ex60 THE REV. MR. TURNER. Chap. IV.
pressed most warmly the gratitude and esteem he felt towards his revered instructor. "Mr. Turner," he said, " was always ready to assist me with books, with instruments, and with counsel, gratuitously and cheerfully. He gave me the most valuable assistance and instruction, and to my dying day I can never forget the obligations which I owe to my venerable friend."
Mr. Turner's conduct towards George Stephenson was all the more worthy of admiration, because at that time the object of his friendly instruction and counsel occupied but the position of a comparatively obscure workman, of no means or influence, who had become known to him only through his anxious desire for information on scientific subjects. He could little have dreamt that the object of his almost fatherly attention would achieve a reputation so distinguished as that to which he afterwards reached, and that he would revolutionise by his inventions and improvements the internal communications of the civilised world. The circumstance is encouraging to those who, like Mr. Turner, are still daily devoting themselves with equal disinterestedness to the education of the working-classes in our schools and mechanics' institutes. Though the opportunity of lending a helping hand to such men as George Stephenson may but rarely occur, yet the labours of such teachers are never without excellent results.
.chap. V. FIRST INVENTORS OF LOCOMOTIVES. 61
George Stephenson's Fiest Locomotives.
Towards the end of last century, numerous projects were set on foot for the purpose of facilitating the conveyance of coal from the pits to the loading staiths. Various mechanical methods were suggested with this object. Mr. Edgeworth even proposed to impel the waggons by means of sails, like ships before the wind. But the most favourite plan was the employment of the power of steam. Savery, Watt, Eobison, and others in England, and Oliver Evans in America, threw out suggestions with this object. Cugnot, a French engineer, in 1763, constructed a remarkable machine which is still to be seen in the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers at Paris. It has the look of a long brewer's cart, with a circular boiler hung on at one end. Yet, rude though it looks, it appears that, when set in motion by its projector, its force was such that it knocked down a wall which stood in its way; and, its power being considered too great for ordinary use, it was eventually put aside as a dangerous machine.
The first English model of a steam-carriage was made in 1784, by "William Murdock, the friend and assistant of Watt. It was on the high-pressure principle, and ran on three wheels. The boiler was heated by a spirit-lamp; and the whole machine was of very diminutive dimensions, standing little more than a foot high. Yet, on one occasion, the little engine went so fast, that it outran the speed of its inventor. It seems that one night, after returning from his duties in the mine at Eedruth, in Cornwall, Murdock determined to try the working of his model locomotive. For this purpose he had recourse to the walk leading to the church, about a mile from the town. The walk was