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chap. III.] LEARNS READING AND ARITH METIC. 19
man, he must master this wonderful art of reading—the key to so many other arts. He would thus be enabled to gain an access to books, the depositories of the experience and wisdom of all times. Although now a grown man and doing the work of a man, he was not ashamed to confess his ignorance and go to school, big as he was, to learn his letters. . Perhaps, too, he foresaw that, in laying out a little of his spare earnings for this purpose, he was investing money judiciously, and that, every hour he spent at school, he was really working for better wages. At all events, he determined to make a beginning—a small beginning, it is true, but still a right one, and a pledge and assurance that he was in earnest in the work of self-culture. He desired to find a road into knowledge; and no man can sincerely desire this but he will eventually succeed. He possessed that will and purpose which are the invariable forerunners of success. His first schoolmaster was Robin Cowens, a poor teacher in the village of Walbottle. He kept a night-school, which was attended by a few of the colliers and labourers’ sons in the neighbourhood. George took lessons in spelling and reading three nights in the week. Tommy Musgrove, the lad who “sled out” the engine at the Water-row Pit, usually went with him to the evening lesson. This teaching of Robin Cowens cost threepence a week; and though it was not very good, yet George, being hungry for knowledge, and eager to acquire it, soon learnt to read. He also practised “pot-hooks,” and at the age of nineteen he was proud to be able to write his own name. A Scotch dominie, named Andrew Robertson, set up a night-school in the village of Newburn, in the winter of 1799. It was more convenient for George Stephenson to attend this school, as it was nearer to his work, and not more than a few minutes' walk from Jolly's Close. Besides, Andrew had the reputation of being a skilled arithmetician; and this was a branch of knowledge that Stephenson was now desirous of acquiring. He accordingly began taking lessons from him, paying fourpence a week. Andrew Gray, the junior fireman at the Water-row Pit, began arithmetic at the same time; and he has since told the writer that George learnt “figuring” so much faster than he did, that he could not make out how it was—“he took to figures so wonderful.” Although the two started together from the same point, at the end of the winter George had mastered “reduction,” while Andrew Gray was still grappling with the difficulties of simple division. But George's secret was his perseverance. He worked out the sums in his bye-hours, improving every minute of his spare time by the engine-fire, there solving the arithmetical problems set for him upon his slate by his master. In the evenings he took to Andrew Robertson the sums which he had thus “worked,” and new ones were “set" for him to study out the following day. Thus his progress was rapid, and, with a willing heart and mind, he soon became well advanced in arithmetic. Indeed, Andrew Robertson became somewhat proud of his pupil; and shortly afterwards, when the Water-row Pit was closed, and George removed to Black Callerton to work there, the poor schoolmaster, not having a very extensive connection in Newburn, went with his pupils, and set up his night-school at Black Callerton, where they continued their instructions under him as before. George still found time to attend to his favourite animals while working at the Water-row Pit. He kept up his breed of rabbits, and even drove a small trade in them, selling portions of his stock from time to time. Like his father, he used to tempt the robin-redbreasts to hop and fly about him at the engine-fire, by the bait of bread-crumbs saved from his dinner. But his favourite animal was his dog—so sagacious that he performed the office of a servant, in almost daily carrying his dinner to him at the pit. The tin containing the
CHAP. III.] LEARNS ENGINE-BRAKEING. 21
meal was suspended from the dog's neck, and, thus laden, he proudly walked the road from Jolly's Close to Water-row Pit, quite through the village of Newburn. He turned neither to left nor right, nor minded for the time the barking of curs at his heels. But his course was not unattended with perils. One day the big strange dog of a passing butcher espied the engine-man's messenger, ran after him and fell upon him with the tin can about his neck. There was a terrible tussle and worrying between the dogs, which lasted for a brief while, and, shortly after, the dog's master, anxious for his dinner, saw his faithful servant approaching, bleeding but triumphant. The tin can was still round his neck, but the dinner had escaped in the struggle. Though George went without his dinner that day, yet when the circumstances of the combat were related to him by the villagers who had seen it, he was prouder of his dog than ever. It was while working at the Water-row Pit that Stephenson first learnt the art of brakeing an engine. This being one of the higher departments of colliery labour, and amongst the best paid, George was very anxious to learn it. A small winding engine having been put up for the purpose of drawing the coals from the pit, Bill Coe, his friend and fellowworkman, was appointed the brakesman. He frequently allowed George to try his hand at the brake, and instructed him how to proceed. But in this course, Coe was opposed by several of the other workmen—one of whom, a brakesman named William Locke", went so far as to stop the working of the pit because Stephenson had been called in to the brake. But one day as Mr. Charles Nixon, the manager of the pit, was observed approaching, Coe adopted an expedient which had the effect of putting a stop to the opposition. He forthwith called upon George Stephenson to “come into the brakehouse, and take hold of the machine.” No sooner had he done this, than Locke, as usual, sat down, and the working of the pit was stopped. “What's the meaning of this?” asked Mr. Nixon; “what's wrong that the pit is standing * * Coe's answer was that Locke had refused to take the corf. “And why?” asked Nixon. “Because Locke objects to my learning George there (pointing to Stephenson) to brake.” Locke, when requested to give an explanation, said that “young Stephenson couldn't brake, and, what was more, never would learn to brake: he was so clumsy that he was like to rive his arms off.” Mr. Nixon, however, ordered Locke to go on with the work, which he did; and Stephenson, after some further practice, acquired the art of brakeing.
* He afterwards removed to Barnsley in Yorkshire ; he was the father of Mr. Locke the celebrated engineer.
After working at the Water-row Pit, and in the neighbourhood of Newburn, for about three years, George, with his companion Coe, was removed to Black Callerton Colliery in the year 1801. The pit there belonged to the same masters, Nixon and Cramlington, and George was regularly appointed brakesman at the Dolly Pit.
GEORGE STEPHENSON was now a young man of twenty years of age, a well-knit, healthy fellow, a sober, steady, and expert workman. Beyond this, and his diligence and perseverance, and the occasional odd turns which his curiosity took, there was nothing remarkable about him. He was no precocious genius. As yet he was comparatively untaught, and had but mastered the mere beginnings of knowledge. But his observant faculties were active, and he diligently turned to profitable account every opportunity of exercising them. He had still only the tastes and ambitions of an ordinary workman, and perhaps looked not beyond that condition. His duties as a brakesman may be briefly described. The work was somewhat monotonous, and consisted in superintending the working of the engine and machinery by means of which the coals were drawn out of the pit. Brakesmen are almost invariably selected from those who have had considerable experience as engine firemen, and borne a good character for steadiness, punctuality, watchfulness, and “mother wit.” In George Stephenson's day, the coals were drawn out of the pit in corves, or large baskets made of hazel rods. The corves were placed two together in a cage, between which and the pit ropes there was usually from fifteen to twenty feet of chain. The approach of the corves towards the pit mouth was signalled by a bell, brought into action by a piece of mechanism worked from the shaft of the