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chap. xxxvi.) ORNAMENTAL INITIALS. 509
seized hold of the piston rod and held it down with all his strength. The machine was at once brought to a stand, very much to Mr. Perkins's annoyance. But the humbug had been exploded to Mr. Stephenson's satisfaction. Towards the close of his life he frequently went down to Newcastle, and visited the scenes of his boyhood. “I have been to Callerton,” said he one day to a friend, “and seen the fields in which I used to pull turnips at twopence a day; and many a cold finger, I can tell you, I had.” On one occasion, he accidentally met a gentleman and his wife at an inn in Derbyshire, whom he entertained for some time with his shrewd observations and playful sallies. At length the lady requested to know the name of the remarkable stranger. “Why madam,” said he, “they used once to call me plain George Stephenson; I'm now called George Stephenson, Esquire, of Tapton House, near Chesterfield. And further let me say, that I’ve dined with princes, and peers, and commoners—with persons of all classes, from the highest to the humblest; I’ve made my dinner off a redherring in a hedge bottom, and gone through the meanest drudgery; I’ve seen mankind in all its phases, and the conclusion I have arrived at is—that if we were all stripped, there's not much difference.” His hand was open to his former fellow-workmen whom old age had left in poverty. He would slip a five-pound note into the hand of a poor man or a widow in such a way as not to offend their delicacy, but to make them feel as if the obligation were all on his side. To poor Robert Gray, of Newburn, who acted as his bridesman on his marriage to Fanny Henderson, he left a pension for life, which continues to be paid him. About the beginning of 1847, Mr. Stephenson was requested to state what were his “ ornamental initials,” in order that they might be added to his name in the title of a work proposed to be dedicated to him. His reply was characteristic. “I have to state,” said Mr. Stephenson, “that I have no flourishes to my name, either before or after; and I think it will be as well if you merely say “George Stephenson.' It is true that I am a Belgian knight, but I do not wish to have any use made of it. I have had the offer of knighthood of my own country made to me several times, but would not have it. I have been invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society, and also of the Civil Engineers' Society, but objected to the empty additions to my name. I am a member of the Geological Society; and I have consented to become President of, I believe, a highly respectable Mechanics' Institution at Birmingham.” During the summer of 1847, Mr. Stephenson was invited to offer himself as a candidate for the representation of South Shields in Parliament. But his politics were at best of a very undefined sort; indeed his life had been so much occupied with subjects of a practical character, that he had scarcely troubled himself to form any decided opinion on the party political topics of the day; and to stand the cross fire of the electors on the hustings might have been found an even more distressing ordeal than the cross-questioning of the barristers in the Committees of the House of Commons. “Politics,” he used to say, “are all matters of theory — there is no stability in them; they shift about like the sands of the sea: and I should feel quite out of my element amongst them.” He had accordingly the good sense respectfully to decline the honour of contesting the representation of South Shields. As the founder of the school of modern engineers, it might have been expected that Mr. Stephenson would have been invited to join the Civil Engineers' Institute; and, indeed, he himself desired to do so. But there were two obstacles to his being admitted to membership. The first was, that Mr.
CHAP. xxxv I.] DECLINES THE OFFER OF KNIGHTHOOD. 511
Stephenson had served no regular apprenticeship as an engineer; and the second was, that he should go through the form required of the youngest member of the profession, and fill in a paper detailing his experience, to which he must afterwards obtain the signatures of several members of the Institute, recommending him personally and professionally for election. Mr. Stephenson could not comply with the first condition, and he would not comply with the second. The council of the institute were willing to waive the former, but not the latter point. But Mr. Stephenson said, if he went in at all he would go in upright, not stooping one inch ; and he did think it was too much to ask of him, that he should undergo the probationary test required from comparatively unknown juniors, and state his experience as an engineer to a society many of whose members had been his own pupils or assistants. Perhaps he entertained the opinion that a society which had elected Prince Albert, Colonel Pasley, and others of less note, as honorary members, would not have done itself discredit by admitting the father of Railway Engineering on the same terms. As it was, he turned his back, though reluctantly, on the Institute of Civil Engineers, and accepted the office of President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham, which he held until his death. Sir Robert Peel made him an offer of knighthood more than once; but Mr. Stephenson had no desire to hang on the outskirts of the titled class, or to get perched into high places of any kind. Arago, in his Eloge, complained that Watt was not made a baron. But what lustre would such a title have added to the name of either Watt or Stephenson? Thank Heaven, the strongest and best men of England do their work without hope of any such reward. Never were men less the creatures of government, or of patronage, than James Watt and George Stephenson; and, as representing the genius of the people from whom they sprang, we would rather have their simple names descend to posterity unadorned, than disguised and hidden under any unmeaning title borrowed from the middle ages.
As respects the immense advantages of railways to mankind, there cannot be two opinions. They exhibit, probably, the grandest organisation of capital and labour that the world has yet seen. Although they have unhappily occasioned great loss to many, the loss has been that of individuals; whilst, as a national system, the gain has already been enormous. As tending to multiply and spread abroad the conveniences of life, opening up new fields of industry, bringing nations nearer to each other, and thus promoting the great ends of civilisation, the founding of the railway system ‘by George Stephenson must be regarded as one of the most important events, if not the very greatest, in the first half of this nineteenth century.