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stake and lost, — the merchant who had left his business, and the doctor who had neglected his patients, to gamble in railway stock, and been ruined,—the penniless knaves and schemers, who had speculated so recklessly, and gained so little, – the titled and fashionable people, who had bowed themselves so low before the idol of the day, and found themselves so deceived and “done,”— the credulous small capitalists, who, dazzled by premiums, had invested their all in railway shares, and now saw themselves stripped of everything, - the Average Directors, who “never knew what was going on and thought all was right,” but now found that all was wrong, -the tradesmen who had sold their business to become sharebrokers, and had now reached the Gazette, were all grievously enraged, and looked about them for a victim. In this temper were shareholders, when, at a railway meeting in York, some pertinent questions were put to the Railway King. His replies were not satisfactory; and the questions were pushed home. Mr. Hudson became confused. Angry voices rose in the meeting. The monarch was even denounced. A committee of investigation was appointed, and the gilt idol of the railway world was straightway dethroned. A howl of execration arose from his deluded worshippers: and those who had bowed the lowest before him during his brief reign, hissed the loudest when he fell. The gold which he had put in their pockets might still be heard chinking there; but no one had yet found them out, and they joined in the chorus of popular indignation. Then committees of investigation were appointed on nearly all the railways; able reports by patriotic candidates for seats at boards were successively published; and, railways having been exorcised, and one of their evil spirits cast out, railway virtue was again supposed to be in the ascendant.
MR. STEPHENSON'S CONNECTION witH For EIGN RAILWAYS. JOURNEYS INTO BELGIUM AND SPAIN.
LEoPoLD, King of the Belgians, was the first European monarch who discovered the powerful instrumentality of railways in developing the industrial resources of a nation. Having resided in England during the infancy of our railway enterprises, he had personally inspected the lines in operation, and satisfied himself of their decided superiority over all known modes of transit. He therefore determined at the earliest possible period to adopt them as the great highroads of his new kingdom. Belgium had scarcely escaped from the throes of her revolution, and Leopold had only been a short time called to the throne, when by his command the first project of a Belgian railway was laid before him. It was a modest project, it is true, a single line from Antwerp to Liege, requiring a capital of only 400,000l. But small though it was, his ministers even feared that the project was too ambitious, and that the king was about to embark his government in an enterprise beyond its strength. There was as yet only the experiment of the Liverpool and Manchester passenger railway to justify him; but in his opinion that had been complete and decisive. The bill for the Antwerp and Liege line struggled with difficulty through the Chambers, and it became law in 1834. Before the measure received legislative sanction, the plan had been enlarged, and powers were taken to construct an almost entire system of lines embracing the principal districts of Belgium; connecting Brussels with all the chief cities, and extending from Ostend eastward to the Prussian frontier, and from Antwerp southward to the French frontier. The total extent of railway thus authorised was 246 miles. The eventual success of this measure was mainly due to the energy and sagacious enterprise of the king. He foresaw the immense advantages of the railway system, and its applicability to the wants of such a state as Belgium. The country being rich in coal and minerals, had great manufacturing capabilities. It had good ports, fine navigable rivers, abundant canals, and a teeming industrious population. He perceived railways were of all things the best calculated to bring the industry of the country into full play, and to render the riches of his provinces available to all the rest of the kingdom. King Leopold therefore openly declared himself the promoter of public railways throughout Belgium. The execution of the works was immediately commenced, the money being provided by the state. Every official influence was called into active exertion for the development of these great enterprises. And, in order to prevent the Belgian enterprise becoming in any sort converted into a stock-jobbing speculation, it was wisely provided that the shares were not to be quoted on the Exchange at Antwerp or Brussels, until the railway was actually completed. Mr. George Stephenson and his son, as the leading railway engineers of England, were consulted by the King of the Belgians, as to the formation of the most efficient system of lines throughout his kingdom, as early as 1835. In the course of that year Mr. Stephenson visited Belgium, and had some interesting conferences with King Leopold and his ministers on the subject of the proposed railways. On that occasion the king appointed him by royal ordinance a Knight of the Order of Leopold. Improvements of the
cHAP. xxxi.11.] BRUSSELS AND GHENT LINE. 457
system were recommended and adopted; and in 1837 a law was passed, authorising the construction of additional lines, — from Ghent to Mouscron on the French frontier, from Courtray to Tournai, - from Brain-le-Comte to Namur, with several smaller branches. These, with the lines previously authorised, made a total length of 341 English miles. Much diligence was displayed by the government in pushing on the works; the representatives of the people in the Chambers now surpassing even the king himself in their anticipation of the great public benefits to be derived from railways. The first twelve miles between Brussels and Malines were opened in 1835, a year after the passing of the law; and successive portions were opened from time to time, until the year 1844, when the entire national system was completed and opened, after a total outlay on works, stations, and plant, of about six and a half millions sterling. Never did any legislature expend public money in a wiser manner for the promotion of the common good. The Belgian lines being executed as an entire system by the state, there was no wasteful parliamentary expenditure, and no construction of unnecessary duplicate lines; the whole capital invested was remunerative; and the Belgian people thus obtained the full advantages of railways at less than one-half the average cost of those in England. At the invitation of the king, Mr. Stephenson made a visit to Belgium in 1837, on the occasion of the public opening of the line from Brussels to Ghent. The event was celebrated with great ceremony. At Brussels there was a public procession, and another at Ghent on the arrival of the train. Mr. Stephenson and his party accompanied it to the Public Hall, there to dine with the chief ministers of state, the municipal authorities, and about five hundred of the principal inhabitants of the city; the English ambassador being also present. After the king's health and a few others had been drank, that of Mr. Stephenson was proposed; on which the whole assembly rose up, amidst great excitement and loud applause, and made their way to where he sat, in order to jingle glasses with him, greatly to his own amazement. On the day following, Mr. Stephenson dined with the king and queen at their own table at Laaken, by special invitation; afterwards accompanying his majesty and suite to a public ball given by the municipality of Brussels, in honour of the opening of the line to Ghent, as well as of their distinguished Inglish guest. On entering the room, the general and excited inquiry was, “Which is Stephenson ?” The English engineer had never before known that he was esteemed so great a man. When the success of railways in Belgium was no longer matter of conjecture, capitalists were ready to come forward and undertake their formation, without aid from the government; and several independent companies were formed in England for the construction of new lines in the country. Mr. Stephenson was professionally consulted respecting several of these in the year 1845. The Sambre and Meuse Company having obtained the concession of a line from the legislature", Mr. Stephenson proceeded to Belgium, for the purpose of examining in person the district through which the proposed line was to pass. He was accompanied on this occasion by Mr. Sopwith and Mr. Starbuck: the former gentleman a highly distinguished Northumberland
* The king, in his speech to the Chambers, in opening the session of 1845, said, “Ever since the National Railways have reached the French and German frontiers, the conveyance of goods and passengers, and the amount of the receipts, have rapidly and unceasingly advanced. The results obtained this year have surpassed my expectations. Your last session was distinguished, towards its close, by the vote of several projects of railways and canals. The favourable reception given to foreign capitalists has led to many demands for the concession of lines. Some of these demands, after being examined, will be submitted to your deliberation.”