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cHAp. xv.111.] THE OPPOSITION ORGANISED. 219
Nevertheless, the canal companies of Leeds, Liverpool, and Birmingham, called upon every navigation company in the kingdom to oppose railways wherever they were projected, but more especially the projected Liverpool and Manchester line, the battle with which they evidently regarded as their Armageddon. A Birmingham newspaper invited opposition to the measure, and a public subscription was entered into for the purpose of making it effectual. The newspapers generally spoke of the project as a mere speculation; some wishing it success, although greatly doubting; others ridiculing it as a delusion, similar to the many other absurd projects of that madly-speculative period. It was a time when balloon companies proposed to work passenger traffic through the air at forty miles an hour, and when road companies projected carriages to run on turnpikes at twelve miles an hour, with relays of bottled gas instead of horses. There were companies for the working of American gold and silver mines, companies forcutting ship canals through Panama and Nicaragua, milk companies, burying companies, fish companies, and steam companies of all sorts; and many less speculatively disposed than their neighbours, were ready to set down the projected railways of 1825 as mere bubbles of a similarly delusive character.
Among the most remarkable newspaper articles of the day calling attention to the application of the locomotive engine to the purposes of rapid steam travelling on railroads, was a series which appeared in 1824, in the Scotsman newspaper, then edited by Mr. Charles Maclaren. In those publications the wonderful powers of the locomotive were logically demonstrated, and the writer, arguing from the experiments on friction made more than half a century before by Vince and Colomb, which scientific men seemed to have altogether lost sight of, clearly showed that, by the use of steam-power on railroads, the more rapid, as well as cheaper transit of persons and merchandise might be confidently anticipated. The important experiments referred to had demonstrated that friction upon roads is the same at all velocities. Dr. Young had, indeed, in referring to these experiments, as early as 1807", made use of the following prophetic words: —“It is possible that roads paved with iron may be hereafter employed for the purpose of expeditious travelling, since there is scarcely any resistance to be overcome except that of the air; and such roads will allow the velocity to be increased almost without limit.” Mr. Maclaren, after going carefully into the questions of gravity, resistance, friction, and other impediments to motion upon a road, proceeded to prove by fair inferences, clearly argued out, “that were railways to come into general use, two-thirds or more of the expense of transporting commodities would be saved.” After anticipating that an average velocity of twenty miles an hour would be secured on railways at very little more cost than a velocity of one mile, and that it must be left to the engineer to find out the best means of giving effect to the truths thus demonstrated, the writer went on to say—“We are afraid that some practical men will be disposed to treat these propositions as matter of idle and profitless speculation. But we confess that this does not abate our confidence in their truth. . . . The application of the laws of friction to the motion of carriages on railways has scarcely ever been investigated. Yet the subject is of vast importance, and the results are extraordinary. Among all the new projects and inventions with which this age teems, there is certainly not one which opens up such a boundless prospect of improvement, as the general introduction of railways for the purpose of commercial communication. We have spoken of vehicles travelling at twenty
chap. xviii.] SPECULATIONS AS TO RAILWAY SPEED. 221
miles an hour; but we see no reason for thinking that, in the progress of improvement, a much higher velocity might not be found practicable. Tiberius travelled 200 miles in two days, and this was reckoned an extraordinary effort; but in twenty years hence, a shopkeeper or mechanic, on the most ordinary occasion, may probably travel with a speed that would leave the fleetest courser behind.” Little more than five years passed before these anticipations, sanguine and speculative though they were regarded at the time, were amply realised. And yet even Mr. Nicholas Wood", in 1825, speaking of the powers of the locomotive, and referring doubtless to the speculations of the Scotsman as well as of his equally sanguine friend Stephenson, observed,—“It is far from my wish to promulgate to the world that the ridiculous expectations, or rather professions, of the enthusiastic speculator will be realised, and that we shall see engines travelling at the rate of twelve, sixteen, eighteen, or twenty miles an hour. Nothing could do more harm towards their general adoption and improvement than the promulgation of such nonsense.” Indeed, when Mr. Stephenson, at the consultations of counsel previous to the Liverpool and Manchester bill going into Committee of the House of Commons, confidently stated his expectation of being able to impel his locomotive at the rate of twenty miles an hour, Mr. Willam Brougham, who was retained by the promoters to conduct their case, frankly told him, that if he did not moderate his views, and bring his engine within a reasonable speed, he would “ inevitably damn the whole thing, and be himself regarded as a maniac fit for Bedlam.”f We have before us a letter from Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Barrow, of the Admiralty, to Mr. Sandars of Liverpool, dated the 10th January, 1825, in which, as a friend of the measure, he strongly urges the promoters to disclaim the intention of conveying passengers along the railway by means of the locomotive engine. “I still think,” said he, “you will not get many who will suffer themselves to be conveyed, even at the rate of eight miles an hour, amidst the hissing noise and the dense smoke of their own and other passing engines. At present I believe it has not been found expedient to drive the waggons at a greater rate than five miles an hour; but if you find that by enlarging the wheels, and with a not greatly increased pressure, you can go eight, and bring intelligent practical men to prove it, I think it would be wise to stop there, and for the present at least to give up the passengers, for it is there you will fail if you persevere. . . . . The speed ought, in my opinion, to be regulated by bye-laws, and kept out of the Act; but if a clause to that effect be insisted on, I cannot help thinking it would be advisable to keep it down as low as you can.” The idea of travelling at a rate of speed double that of the fastest mail coach appeared at that time so preposterous that Mr. Stephenson was unable to find any engineer who would risk his reputation in supporting his “absurd views.” Speaking of his isolation at this time, he subsequently observed, at a public meeting of railway men in Manchester: “He remembered the time when he had very few supporters in bringing out the railway system — when he sought England over for an engineer to support him in his evidence before Parliament, and could find only one man, James Walker, but was afraid to call that gentleman, because he knew nothing about railways. He had then no one to tell his tale to but Mr. Sandars of Liverpool, who did listen to him, and kept his spirits up; and his schemes chap. xviii.] ARTICLE IN THE “QUARTERLY.” 223
* A practical Treatise on Railroads. By Nicholas Wood, Colliery Viewer, C. E. London: Hurst, Chance, and Co.
f Mr. John Dixon, engineer of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, then Mr. Stephenson's assistant, relates the above circumstance.
had at length been carried out only by dint of sheer perseverance.” " George Stephenson's idea was indeed at that time regarded as but the dream of a chimerical projector. It stood before the public friendless, struggling hard to gain a footing, but scarcely daring to lift itself into notice for fear of ridicule. The civil engineers generally rejected the notion of a Locomotive Railway; and when no leading man of the day could be found to stand forward in support of the Killingworth mechanic, its chances of success must have been pronounced small. But, like all great truths, the time was surely to come when it was to prevail. When such was the hostility of the civil engineers, no wonder the reviewers were puzzled. The Quarterlyf, in an able article in support of the projected Liverpool and Manchester Railway, while admitting its absolute necessity, and insisting that there was no choice left but a railroad, on which the journey between Liverpool and Manchester, whether performed by horses or engines, would always be accomplished “within the day,”— nevertheless scouted the idea of travelling at a greater speed than eight or nine miles an hour. “We are not the advocates,” said the reviewer, “for visionary projects that interfere with useful establishments; we scout the idea of a general railroad as altogether impracticable, or as one, at least, which will be rendered nugatory in lines, where the traffic is so small that the receipts would scarcely pay for the consumption of coals. . . . The gross exaggerations of the powers of the locomotive engine, or, to speak in plain English, the steam-carriage, may delude for a time, but must end in the mortification of
* Speech of Mr. Stephenson at a meeting held in Manchester on the 15th of June, 1847, to present a service of plate to J. P. Westhead, Esq., chairman of the Manchester and Birmingham Railway Co. f Quarterly Review, for March, 1825.