Изображения страниц

to the ordinary work of the colliery. He made no noise nor stir about his locomotive, but allowed another to take credit for the experiments on velocity and friction made with it by himself upon the Killingworth railroad. By patient industry and laborious contrivance, he was enabled to do for the locomotive what James Watt had done for the condensing engine. He found it clumsy and inefficient; and he made it powerful, efficient, and useful. Both have been described as the improvers of their respective engines; but, as to all that is admirable in their structure or vast in their utility, they are rather entitled to be described as their Inventors. While the invention of Watt increased the power, and at the same time so regulated the action, of the steam-engine, as to make it capable of being applied alike to the hardest work and to the finest manufactures, the invention of Stephenson gave an effective power to the locomotive, which enabled it to perform the work of teams of the most powerful horses, and to outstrip the speed of the fleetest. Watt's invention exercised a wonderfully quickening influence on every branch of industry, and multiplied a thousand-fold the amount of manufactured productions; and Stephenson's enabled these to be distributed with an economy and despatch such as had never before been thought possible. They have both tended to increase indefinitely the mass of human comforts and enjoyments, and to render them cheap and accessible to all. But Stephenson's invention, by the influence which it is daily exercising upon the civilisation of the world, is even more remarkable than that of Watt, and is calculated to have still more important consequences. In this respect, it is to be regarded as the grandest application of steam power that has yet been discovered. The Locomotive, like the condensing engine, exhibits the realisation of various capital, but wholly distinct, ideas, pro

chap. xxxvi.] comparison witH watt. 505

mulgated by many ingenious inventors. Stephenson, like Watt, exhibited a power of selection, combination, and invention of his own, by which—while availing himself of all that had been done before him, and superadding the many skilful contrivances devised by himself—he was at length enabled to bring his engine into a condition of marvellous power and efficiency. He gathered together the scattered threads of ingenuity which already existed, and combined them into one firm and complete fabric of his own. He realised the plans which others had imperfectly formed; and was the first to construct, what so many others had unsuccessfully attempted, the practicable working locomotive. In his deportment, Mr. Stephenson was simple, modest, and unassuming, but always manly. He was frank and social in spirit. When a humble workman, he had carefully preserved his sense of self-respect. His companions looked up to him, and his example was worth even more to many of them than books or schools. His devoted love of knowledge made his poverty respectable, and adorned his humble calling. When he rose to a more elevated station, and associated with men of the highest position and influence in Britain, he took his place amongst them with perfect self-possession. They wondered at the quiet ease and simple dignity of his deportment; and men in the best ranks of life have said of him that “He was one of Nature's gentlemen.” If he was occasionally impatient of the opposition of professional brethren, it is scarcely to be wondered at when we look at the simple earnestness of his character, and consider that his sole aim was the establishment of his own well-founded convictions. No wonder that he should have been intolerant of that professional gladiatorship against which his life had been one prolonged struggle. Nor could he forget that the engineering class had been arrayed against him during his arduous battle for the Locomotive, and that, but for his own pluck and persistency, they would have strangled it in its cradle. A man of his stern resolution might well be a little positive sometimes. Who that has made his way through so many difficulties would not be so 2 Especially was he annoyed at the “quirks and quiddities” of the barristers, who subjected him to annoying cross-examinations before the Parliamentary Committees. On coming down from the witness box on one occasion, he went up to the counsel who had been severely cross-examining him and said —“Oh T , I'm ashamed of you! You know my line's the best, and that I’m in the right, and you're in the wrong, and yet you've been worrying me as if you did`nt know that I was right.” Mr. Stephenson's close and accurate observation provided him with a fulness of information on many subjects, which often appeared surprising to those who had devoted to them a special study. In passing through a country, nothing escaped his attention—the trees, the crops, the birds, the farmers' stock; — in short, every thing in nature afforded him an opportunity for making some striking observation, or propounding some ingenious theory. This rendered him a highly instructive and amusing companion at all times. As an engineer, he took especial notice of the external configuration of the country he passed through, and rapidly inferred its geological structure. When employed on one occasion to lay out a line to connect Manchester, through Macclesfield, with the Potteries, the gentleman who accompanied him on the journey of inspection, cautioned him to provide large accommodation for carrying off the water, observing—“You must not judge by the present appearance of the brooks: after heavy rains these hills pour down volumes of water of which you can have no conception.” “Pooh! pooh!” said the veteran, “don’t I see your bridges?” To another, he observed on one occasion, “I have planned


many a railway travelling along in a postchaise, and following the natural line of the country.” And it was remarkable, that his first impressions of the direction to be taken, proved almost invariably the right ones; and there are few of the lines surveyed and recommended by him which have not been executed, either during his lifetime, or since. On one occasion the accuracy of his knowledge of birds came out in a curious way at a convivial meeting of railway men in London. The engineers and railway directors present knew each other as railway men and nothing more. The talk had been all of railways and railway politics. Mr. Stephenson was a great talker on these subjects, and was generally allowed, from the interest of his conversation and the extent of his experience, to take the lead. At length, one of the party broke in with —“Come now, Stephenson, we have had nothing but railways; cannot we have a change, and try if we can talk a little about something else?” “Well,” said Mr. Stephenson, “I’ll give you a wide range of subjects;– what shall it be about?” “Say birds' nests /* rejoined the other, who prided himself on his special knowledge of this subject. “Then birds' nests be it.” A long and animated conversation ensued: the bird-nesting of his boyhood, the blackbird's nest which his father had held him up in his arms to look at when a child at Wylam, the hedges in which he had found the thrush's and the linnet's nests, the mossy bank where the robin built, the cleft in the branch of the young tree where the chaffinch had reared its dwelling, all rose up clear in his mind's eye, and led him back to the scenes of his boyhood at Callerton and Dewley Burn. The colour and number of the birds' eggs, the period of their incubation, the materials employed by them for the walls and lining of their nests, were described by him so vividly, and illustrated by such graphic anecdotes, that one of the party remarked that, if George Stephenson had not been the greatest engineer of his day, he might have been one of the greatest naturalists. Mr. Stephenson had once a conversation with a watchmaker, whom he astonished by the extent and minuteness of his knowledge as to the parts of a watch. The watchmaker knew him to be an eminent engineer, and asked how he had acquired so extensive a knowledge of a branch of business so much out of his sphere. “It is very easy to be explained,” said Mr. Stephenson; “I worked long at watch-cleaning myself, and when I was at a loss, I was never ashamed to ask for information.” It is Goethe, we believe, who has said that no man ever receives a new idea, at variance with his preconceived notions, after forty. But this observation, though it may be generally, is not invariably true. There are many great minds which never close. Mr. Stephenson, to the last, was open to the reception of new ideas, new facts, new theories. He was a late learner; but he went on learning to the end. He shut his mind, however, against what he considered humbugs—especially mechanical humbugs. Thus, he said at Tamworth, that he had not been to see the atmospheric railway, because it was a great humbug. He had gone to see Pinkus's model of it, and that had determined him on the subject. He then declared the atmospheric system to be “a rope of sand; ” it could never hold together, and he would not countenance it. When he heard of Perkins's celebrated machine, which was said to work at a tremendous pressure, without steam, but with water in the boiler almost at red heat, he went with his son to see it. The engine exhibited was of six-horse power, and the pressure was said to be not less than 1500 lbs. to the square inch. Mr. Stephenson said he thought it humbug; but he would test its power. Taking up a little oakum, and wrapping some round each hand, he firmly

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »