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chap. xxxiv.] HIS PURSUITS AT TAPTON. 469

whom he would “knock under" was his friend Paxton, the gardener to the Duke of Devonshire; and he was so old in the service, and so skilful, that he could scarcely hope to beat him. Yet his “Queen" pines did take the first prize at a competition with the duke, –though this was not until shortly after his death, when the plants had become more fully grown. His grapes also recently took the first prize at Rotherham, at a competition open to all England. He was extremely successful in producing melons, having invented a method of suspending them in baskets of wire gauze, which, by relieving the stalk from tension, allowed nutrition to proceed more freely, and better enabled the fruit to grow and ripen. Amongst his other erections, he built a joiner's shop, where he kept a workman regularly employed in carrying out his many ingenious contrivances of this sort. He took much pride also in his growth of cucumbers. He raised them very fine and large, but he could not make them grow straight. Place them as he would, notwithstanding all his propping of them, and humouring them by modifying the application of heat and the admission of light for the purpose of effecting his object, they would still insist on growing crooked in their own way. At last he had a number of glass cylinders made at Newcastle, for the purpose of an experiment; into these the growing cucumbers were inserted, and then he succeeded in growing them perfectly straight. Carrying one of the new products into his house one day, and exhibiting it to a party of visitors, he told them of the expedient he had adopted, and added gleefully, “I think I have bothered them noo!” Mr. Stephenson also carried on farming operations with some success. He experimented on manure, and fed cattle after methods of his own. He was very particular as to breed and build in stock-breeding. “You see, sir,” he said to one gentleman, “I like to see the coo's back at a gradient something like this” (drawing an imaginary line with his hand), “ and then the ribs or girders will carry more flesh than if they were so, or so.” When he attended the county agricultural meetings, which he frequently did, he was accustomed to take part in the discussions, and he brought the same vigorous practical mind to bear upon questions of tillage, drainage, and farm economy, which he had been accustomed to exercise on mechanical and engineering matters. At one of the meetings of the North Derbyshire Agricultural Society, he favoured the assembled farmers with an explanation of his theory of vegetation. The practical conclusion to which it led was, that the agriculturist ought to give as much light and heat to the soil as possible. At the same time he stated his opinion that, in some cold soils, water contributed to promote vegetation, rather than to impede it as was generally believed; for the water, being exposed to the sun and atmosphere, became specifically warmer than the earth it covered, and when it afterwards irrigated the fields, it communicated this additional heat to the soil which it permeated. All his early affection for birds and animals revived. He had favourite dogs, and cows, and horses; and again he began to keep rabbits, and to pride himself on the beauty of his breed. There was not a bird's nest upon the grounds that he did not know of; and from day to day he went round watching the progress which the birds made with their building, carefully guarding them from injury. No one was more minutely acquainted with the habits of British birds, the result of a long, loving, and close observation of nature. At Tapton he remembered the failure of his early experiment in hatching birds' eggs by heat, and he now performed it successfully, being able to secure a proper apparatus for maintaining a uniform temperature. He was also curious about the breeding and fattening of fowls; and when his friend Edward Pease of Darlington visited him at Tapton,


he explained a method which he had invented for fattening chickens in half the usual time. The chickens were shut up in boxes, which were so made as to exclude the light. Dividing the day into two or three parts, the birds were shut up at each period after a heavy feed, and went to sleep. The plan proved very successful, and Mr. Stephenson jocularly said that if he were to devote himself to chickens he could soon make a little fortune. Mrs. Stephenson tried to keep bees, but found they would not thrive at Tapton. Many hives perished, and there was no case of success. The cause of failure was a puzzle to Mr. Stephenson; but one day his acute powers of observation enabled him to unravel it. At the foot of the hill on which Tapton House stands, he saw some bees trying to rise up from amongst the grass, laden with honey and wax. They were already exhausted, as if with long flying; and then it occurred to him that the height at which the house stood above the bees' feeding-ground rendered it difficult for them to reach their hives when heavy laden, and hence they sank exhausted. Mr. Stephenson afterwards stated the case to Mr. Jesse the naturalist, who concurred in his view as to the cause of failure, and was much struck by the keen observation which had led to its solution. Mr. Stephenson had none of the in-doors habits of the student. He read very little; for reading is a habit which is generally acquired in youth; and his youth and manhood had been for the most part spent in hard work. Books wearied him, and sent him to sleep. Novels excited his feelings too much, and he avoided them, though he would occasionally read through a philosophical book on a subject in which he felt particularly interested. He wrote very few letters with his own hand; nearly all his letters were dictated, and he avoided even dictation when he could. His greatest pleasure was in conversation, from which he gathered most of his imparted information; hence he was always glad in the society of intelligent, conversible persons. It was his practice, when about to set out on a journey by railway, to walk along the train before it started, and look into the carriages to see if he could find “a conversible face.” On one of these occasions, at the Euston Station, he discovered in a carriage a very handsome, manly, and intelligent face, which he shortly found belonged to the late Lord Denman. He was on his way down to his seat at Stony Middleton, in Derbyshire. Mr. Stephenson entered the carriage, and the two were shortly engaged in interesting conversation. It turned upon chronometry and horology, and Mr. Stephenson amazed his lordship by the extent of his knowledge on the subject, in which he displayed as much minute information, even down to the latest improvements in watchmaking, as if he had been bred a watchmaker and lived by the trade. Lord Denman was curious to know how a man whose time must have been mainly engrossed by engineering, had gathered so much knowledge on a subject quite out of his own line, and he asked the question. “I learnt clockmaking and watchmaking,” was the answer, “while a working man at Killingworth, when I made a little money in my spare hours by cleaning the pitmen's clocks and watches; and since then I have kept up my information on the subject.” This led to further questions, and then Mr. Stephenson told Lord Denman the interesting story of his life, which held him entranced during the remainder of the journey. Many of his friends readily accepted invitations to Tapton House to enjoy his hospitality, which never failed. With them he would “fight his battles o'er again,” reverting often to his battle for the locomotive; and he was never tired of telling, nor were his auditors of listening to, the lively anecdotes with which he was accustomed to illustrate


the struggles of his early career. Whilst walking in the woods or through the grounds, he would arrest his friends' attention by allusion to some simple object, such as a leaf, a blade of grass, a bit of bark, a nest of birds, or an ant carrying its eggs across the path, – and descant in glowing terms upon the creative power of the Divine Mechanician, whose contrivances were so exhaustless and so wonderful. This was a theme upon which he was often accustomed to dwell in reverential admiration, when in the society of his more intimate friends. o One night, when walking under the stars, and gazing up into the field of suns, each the probable centre of a system, forming the Milky Way, a friend said to him, “What an insignificant creature is man in sight of so immense a creation as that l” “Yes!” was his reply, “but how wonderful a creature also is man, to be able to think and reason, and even in some measure to comprehend works so infinite l’’ A microscope, which he had brought down to Tapton, was a source of immense enjoyment to him; and he was never tired of contemplating the minute wonders which it revealed. One evening, when some friends were visiting him, he induced each of them to puncture his skin so as to draw blood, in order that he might examine the globules through the microscope. One of the gentlemen present was a teetotaller, and Mr. Stephenson pronounced his blood to be the most lively of the whole. He had a theory of his own about the movement of the globules in the blood, which has since become familiar. It was, that they were respectively charged with electricity, positive at one end and negative at the other, and that thus they attracted and repelled each other, causing a circulation. No sooner did he observe anything new, than he immediately set about devising a reason for it. His training in mechanics, his practical familiarity with matter in all its

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