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chAp. VII.] SOBRIETY AND THRIFT. 49
John Wigham was of great use to his pupil in many ways. He was a good talker, fond of argument, an extensive reader, as country reading went in those days, and a very suggestive thinker. Though his store of information might be comparatively small when measured with that of more highly cultivated minds, much of it was entirely new to Stephenson, who regarded him as a very clever and extraordinary person. Young as John Wigham was, he could give much useful assistance to Stephenson at that time, and his neighbourly services were worth untold gold to the eager pupil. Wigham taught him to draw plans and sections; though in this branch Stephenson proved so apt that he soon surpassed his master. Wigham was also a little versed in Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, and a volume of Ferguson's Lectures on Mechanics which he possessed was a great treasure to both the students. One who remembers their evening occupa. tions, says he used to wonder what they meant by weighing the air and water in their odd way. They were trying the specific gravities of objects; and the devices which they employed, the mechanical shifts to which they were put, were often of the rudest kind. In these evening entertainments, the mechanical contrivances were supplied by Stephenson, whilst Wigham found the scientific rationale. The opportunity thus afforded to the former of cultivating his mind by contact with one wiser than himself proved of great value, and in after-life Stephenson gratefully remembered the assistance which, when a humble workman, he had derived from John Wigham the farmer's son.
His leisure moments thus carefully improved, it will be inferred that Stephenson was necessarily a sober man. Though his notions were never extreme on this point, he was systematically temperate. It appears that on the invitation of his master, Ralph Dodds,-and an invitation from a master to a workman is not easy to resist,--he had, on one or two occa
sions, been induced to join him in a forenoon glass of ale in the public house of the village. But one day, about noon, when Mr. Dodds had got him as far as the public-house door, on his invitation to “come and take a glass o’yill,” Stephenson made a dead stop, and said, firmly, “No, sir, you must excuse me; I have made a resolution to drink no more at this time of day.” And he went back. He desired to retain the character of a steady workman; and the instances of men about him who had made shipwreck of their character through intemperance, were then, as now, unhappily, but too frequent. Perhaps, too, he was sober with an eye to thrift. He still steadily kept in mind the resolution which he had formed to give his son a good education, and Robert was now of an age to be sent to a better school than that which the neighbouring village of Long Benton provided. There he had been some time under the charge of Rutter, the parish clerk, who kept a road-side school, where the instruction was of a very limited kind—scarcely extending beyond the child's primer and “pot-hooks.” About the year 1814, Robert was accordingly sent to Bruce's academy at Newcastle, where he commenced a course of sound elementary instruction; and many remember seeing him in his homely grey suit, riding on his donkey to and from school, morning and evening. By dint of extra labour during his bye-hours, with this object, George Stephenson had managed to save a sum of 100l., which he accumulated in guineas, each of which he afterwards sold to Jews who went about buying up gold coins (then dearer than silver), at twenty-six shillings a piece; and he lent out the proceeds at good interest. He was now, therefore, a comparatively thriving man. The first guinea which he had saved with so much difficulty at Black Callerton had proved the nest-egg of future guineas; and the habits of economy and sobriety which he had so early cultivated, now enabled him to secure a firmer foothold in the world, and
cHAP. VII.] HIS INGENIOUS CONTRIVANCES. 51
to command the increased esteem and respect of his fellowworkmen and employers. At this time, and for many years after, Stephenson dwelt in a cottage standing by the side of the road leading from the West Moor Pit to Killingworth. The railway from the West Moor Pit crosses this road close by the easternmost end of the cottage. The dwelling originally consisted of but one apartment on the ground-floor, with a garret overhead, to which access was obtained by means of a step-ladder. But with his own hands, Stephenson built an oven, and in course of time he added rooms to the cottage, until it grew into a comfortable four-roomed dwelling, in which he continued to live as long as he resided at Killingworth. There was a little garden attached to the cottage, in which, while a workman, Stephenson took a pride in growing gigantic leeks, and astounding cabbages. There was great competition amongst the villagers in the growth of vegetables, all of whom he excelled, excepting one of his neighbours, whose cabbages sometimes outshone his. In the protection of his garden-crops from the ravages of the birds, he invented a strange sort of “fley-craw,” which moved its arms with the wind; and he fastened his garden door by means of a peace of ingenious mechanism, so that no one but himself could enter it. Indeed, his odd and eccentric contrivances excited much marvel amongst the Killingworth villagers. Thus, he won the women's admiration by connecting their cradles with the smoke-jack, and making them self-acting ! Then, he astonished the pitmen by attaching an alarum to the clock of the watchman whose duty it was to call them betimes in the morning. The cottage of Stephenson was a sort of curiosity shop of models, engines, self-acting planes, and perpetual motion machines, which last contrivance, however, baffled him as effectually as it had done hundreds of preceding inventors. He also contrived a wonderful lamp which burned under water, with which he was afterwards wont to amuse the Brandling family at Gosforth,-going into the fish-pond at night, lamp in hand, attracting and catching the fish, which rushed wildly towards the subaqueous flame. Dr. Bruce tells of a competition which Stephenson had with the joiner at Killingworth, as to which of them could make the best shoe-last; and when the former had done his work, either for the humour of the thing, or to secure fair play from the appointed judge, he took it to the Morrisons in Newcastle, and got them to put their stamp upon it. So that it is possible the Killingworth brakesman, afterwards the inventor of the safety-lamp and the originator of the railway system, and John Morrison, the last-maker, afterwards the translator of the Scriptures into the Chinese language, may have confronted each other in solemn contemplation over the successful last, which won the verdict coveted by its maker. Sometimes he would endeavour to impart to his fellowworkmen the results of his scientific reading. Everything that he learnt from books was so new and so wonderful to him, that he regarded the facts he drew from them in the light of discoveries, as if they had been made but yesterday. Once he tried to explain to some of the pitmen how the earth was round, and kept turning round. But his auditors flatly declared the thing to be impossible, as it was clear that “at the bottom side they must fall off!” “Ah!” said George, “you don't quite understand it yet.” In elastic muscular vigour, George Stephenson was now in his prime, and he still continued to be zealous in measuring his strength and agility with his fellow-workmen. The competitive element in his nature was strong; and his success was remarkable in these feats of rivalry. Few, if any, could lift such weights, throw the hammer and putt the stone so far, or cover so great a space at a standing or running leap. One
chAP. vii.] HIS PHYSICAL VIGOUR. 53
day, between the engine hour and the rope-rolling hour, Kit Heppel challenged him to leap from one high wall to another, with a deep gap between them. To Heppel's surprise and dismay, George took the standing leap, and cleared the eleven feet at a bound. Had his eye been less accurate, or his limbs less agile and sure, the feat must have cost him his life. But so full of redundant muscular vigour was he, that leaping, putting, and throwing the hammer were not enough for him. He was also ambitious of riding on horseback, and as he had not yet been promoted to the honour of keeping a riding horse of his own (which, however, he was shortly afterwards), he sometimes contrived to ride for “the howdie,” when the services of that official were required in the village. He would volunteer his services on such occasions, when the fleetest of the gin-horses were usually put in requisition. Sometimes, also, he borrowed the animal for a pleasure ride. On one of these latter occasions, he brought the horse back reeking; on which Tommy Mitcheson, the bank-horsekeeper, a rough-spoken fellow, exclaimed to him: —“Set such fellows as you on horseback, and you'll soon ride to the De'il.” But Tommy Mitcheson lived to tell the joke, and to confess that, after all, there had been a better issue to George's horsemanship than that which he so hastily predicted. Old Cree, the engine-wright at Killingworth, having been killed by an accident, George Stephenson was, in 1812, appointed engine-wright of the colliery at the salary of 100l. a year. He was also allowed the use of a galloway to ride upon in his visits of inspection to the collieries leased by the “Grand Allies” in that neighbourhood. The “Grand Allies” were a company of gentlemen, consisting of Sir Thomas Liddell (afterwards Lord Ravensworth), the Earl of Strathmore, and Mr. Stuart Wortley (afterwards Lord Wharncliffe), the lessees of the Killingworth collieries.