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high ground. In proportion as these views forced themselves upon his mind and were corroborated by his daily experience, he became more and more convinced of the hopelessness of applying steam locomotion to common roads; for every argument in favour of a level railway was, in his view, an argument against the rough and hilly course of a common road. Nor did he cease to urge upon the numerous patrons of road steam carriages, that if, by any amount of ingenuity, an engine could be made, which could by possibility travel on a turnpike road at a speed equal to that obtainable by horse power, and at a less cost, such an engine, if applied to the more perfect surface of a railway, would have its efficiency enormously enhanced.
For instance, he calculated that, if an engine had been constructed, and had been found to travel uniformly between London and Birmingham at an average speed of 10 miles an hour, conveying say 20 or 30 passengers, at a cost of ls. per mile, it was clear that the same engine, if applied to a railway, instead of conveying 20 or 30 persons, would easily convey 200 or 300; and, instead of travelling at a speed of 10 or 12 miles an hour, a speed of at least 30 or 40 miles an hour might be attained.
All this seems trite and common-place enough, now that the thing has been done ; but it was not so in those days, before it had been attempted or even thought of, excepting by one man, whom his contemporaries spoke of as a dreamer and enthusiast on the subject of railways. Then, the socalled “practical” men were bent upon a really impracticable thing — the economical application of steam power to turnpike roads ; while the “ enthusiast” was pursuing the only safe road to practical success. At this day it is difficult to understand how the sagacious and strong common-sense views of Stephenson on this subject failed to force themselves sooner upon the minds of those who were persisting in their vain though ingenious attempts to apply locomotive power to ordinary roads. For a long time they continued to hold with obstinate perseverance to the belief that for steam purposes a soft road was better than a hard one-a road easily crushed better than one incapable of being crushed; and they held to this after it had been demonstrated in all parts of the mining districts, that iron tramways were better than paved roads. But the fallacy that iron was incapable of adhesion upon iron continued to prevail, and the projectors of steam travelling on common roads only shared in the common belief. They still considered that roughness of surface was essential to produce “ bite,” especially in surmounting acclivities; the truth being, that they confounded roughness of surface with tenacity of surface and contact of parts; not perceiving that a yielding surface which would adapt itself to the tread of the wheel, could never become an unyielding surface to form a fulcrum for its progression. It was the error of reasoning from one circumstance, instead of taking all the circumstances into account.
EDUCATION OF HIS SON.
ALTHOUGH men of Mr. Stephenson’s scope and frame of mind are in a great measure independent of instruction, none understand better than they do the advantages of scholastic and scientific training. In the course of his progress in life, from the position of a humble colliery brakesman to that of chief engineer of an extensive colliery, every step of which he had gallantly won by dint of constant struggle and persistent industry, he had felt himself almost daily hampered, restrained, and placed at a disadvantage, in consequence of his want of elementary instruction.
Not having been made acquainted with what others before him had done, he had often groped his way, as it were, in the dark, in pursuit of some idea originated by his own independent thinking and observation; and when he had elaborated his views and brought them into a definite shape, lo! he very often found that his supposed original idea was an old one, and that it had long been recorded in scientific works, access to which was not within his reach. “It is a maxim,” says Mr. Babbage *, “equally just in all arts, and in every science, that the man who aspires to fortune or to fame by new discoveries, must be content to examine with care the knowledge of his contemporaries, or to exhaust his efforts in inventing what he will most probably find has been better executed before." No man was more keenly conscious of this truth than George Stephenson; and he often took occasion to give expression to it in his homely and forcible way when addressing workmen at the meetings of Mechanics' Institutes, which he took pleasure in attending during the later years of his life.
* On “ Economy in Machinery and Manufactures.”
But these very efforts, fruitless though they were, and leading to no apparent beneficial results, — as in the case of his long-continued labours in attempting to invent perpetual motion,-yet, having originated in his ardent thirst for practical knowledge, really proved of the greatest advantage to him. The very grappling with difficulty was an education of itself, and tended to develope his independent powers of thinking and action, which is indeed the highest object of intellectual discipline. Had he been early provided with those appliances which are considered requisite for the successful prosecution of mechanical and scientific study, it is possible that he might not have acquired that readiness in suggesting expedients, and contriving apparatus for the mastery of difficulties, which so strikingly distinguished him throughout his career. Indeed, in his case, as in that of so many other self-taught men, the old proverb proved true, that Necessity is the mother of Invention.
Over-much dependence upon others' teaching is somewhat to be guarded against; and it is well, even under the most thorough culture, that there should be occasional gaps left for the mind's independent operation. Stephenson's mind was indeed too full of gaps at starting; and all the knowledge with which he filled them up was of his own acquiring. Thrown from the first upon his own resources, he early acquired that habit of self-reliance which formed the backbone of his character. His strength of purpose, energetic will, untiring industry, and vigorous common sense did the rest. He may be said to have learnt his practical science first,
and acquired his education afterwards; and although he was a late learner, he nevertheless lived long enough to carve his name deep on the world's records, and to leave works in which future ages will trace the hand of a giant.
Whatever Stephenson learnt, having been acquired by his own laborious efforts, was regarded by him in the light of an actual property. There were many highly educated engineers living in his day, who knew vastly more than he did— trained as they had been in all the science and learning of the schools; but there was none so apt in applying what they knew to practical purposes as the Killingworth “brakesman ” and “ engine-wright.” The great secret of his success, however, was his cheerful perseverance. He was never cast down by obstacles, but seemed to take a pleasure in grappling with them, and he always rose from each encounter a stronger as well as a wiser man. He knew nothing of those sickly phantasies which men, who suppose themselves to be “geniuses,” are so apt to indulge in; nor did his poverty or necessities ever impair the elasticity of his character. When he failed in one attempt, he tried again, and again, until eventually he succeeded.
The author well remembers hearing Mr. Stephenson deliver an address to the young men composing a Mechanics' Institute *, at whose soirées he was a frequent and favourite guest, on the subject of his early struggles, and the means by which he had achieved his success in life. “He blushed," he said, “ to follow more brilliant speakers” (Dr. Buckland and others had preceded him), “ for he stood amongst them there but as a humble mechanic. He had commenced his career on a lower level than any man present there. He made that remark for the purpose of encouraging young mechanics to do as he had done — TO PERSEVERE. And he
* Soirée of the Leeds Mechanics’ Institute, Ist December, 1847.