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Chap, xxv.] MAGNITUDE OF THE WORKS. 339
the London and Birmingham Railway he reduced to one common denomination, the result is 25,000,000,000 of cuhic feet more than was lifted for the Great Pyramid; and yet the English work was performed hy about 20,000 men in less than five years. And whilst the Egyptian work was executed by a powerful monarch concentrating upon it the labour and capital of a great nation, the English railway was constructed, in the face of every conceivable obstruction and difficulty, by a company of private individuals out of their own resources, without the aid of Government or the contribution of one farthing of the public money.
ADVANCE OF PUBLIC OPINION IN FAVOUR OF RAILWAYS.
Notwithstanding the decisive success of the Liverpool and Manchester project, the prejudices against railways and railway travelling continued very strong. Their advantages were already fully known to the inhabitants of those districts through which they passed, for they had experienced their practical benefits in substantial reductions in the price of coal, in the carriage of merchandise of all kinds, and in the cheap and rapid transit of their persons from place to place. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was regarded as a national wonder from the first; and strangers resorted to Lancashire from all quarters, to witness the trains and to travel in the wake of the locomotive. To witness a railway train some five-and-twenty years ago was an event in one's life.
But people at a distance did not see railways and railway travelling in the same light. The farther off, and the greater the ignorance which prevailed as to their modes of working, the greater, of course, was the popular alarm. The towns of the South only followed the example of Northampton when they howled down the railways. It was proposed to carry a line through Kent, by the populous county town of Maidstone, on which a public meeting was held to oppose the project; and the railway had not a single supporter amongst the townspeople. When at length formed through Kent, it passed Maidstone at a distance; but in a few years the
CHAP. XXVI.] LEGISLATORS' OPINIONS ON RAILWAYS. 341
Maidstone burgesses, like those of Northampton, became clamorous for a railway; and a branch was formed for their accommodation. Again, in a few years, they complained that the route was circuitous, as they had compelled it to be; consequently another and shorter line was formed, to bring Maidstone into more direct communication with the metropolis. In like manner the London and Bristol (afterwards the Great Western) Railway was vehemently opposed by the people of the towns through which the line was projected to pass; and when the bill was thrown out by the Lords,—after 30,000/. had been expended by the promoters,— the inhabitants of Eton assembled, under the presidency of the Marquis of Chandos, to rejoice and congratulate themselves and the country on the defeat of the measure.
When Colonel Sibthorpe openly declared his hatred of "those infernal railroads," he only expressed in a strong manner the feeling which then pervaded the country gentry and many of the middle classes in the southern districts. That respectable nobleman, the late Earl of Harewood, when it was urged by the gentlemen who waited upon him on behalf of the Liverpool and Manchester company, that great advantages to trade and commerce were to be anticipated from the facilities which would be afforded by railways, refused to admit the force of the argument, as he doubted whether any new impetus to manufactures would be advantageous to the country. And Mr. H. Berkeley, the intelligent member for Cheltenham, in like manner, strongly expressed the views of his class, when at a public meeting held in that town, he declared his utter detestation of railways, and wished that the concoctors of every such scheme, with their solicitors and engineers, were at rest in Paradise !" Nothing," said he, "is more distasteful to me than to hear the echo of our hills reverberating with the noise of hissing railroad-engines running through the heart of our hunting country, and destroying that noble sport to which I have been accustomed firom my childhood." Colonel Sibthorpe even went so far as to declare that he "would rather meet a highwayman, or see a burglar on his premises, than an engineer; he should be much more safe, and of the two classes, he thought the former more respectable!"
Railways had thus, like most other great social improvements, to force their way against the fierce antagonism of united ignorance and prejudice. Public-spirited obstructives were ready to choke the invention at its birth, on the ground of the general good. The forcible invasion of property—the intrusion of public roads into private domains — the noise and nuisance caused by locomotives, and the danger of fire to the adjoining property, were dwelt upon ad nauseam. Then the breed of horses would be destroyed; country innkeepers would be ruined; posting towns would become depopulated; the turnpike roads would be deserted; and the institution of the English stage-coach, with its rosy-gilled coachman and guard, known to every buxom landlady at roadside country inns, would be destroyed for ever. Fox-covers and gamepreserves would be interfered with; agricultural communication destroyed; land thrown out of cultivation; landowners and farmers alike reduced to beggary; the poor-rates increased in consequence of the numbers of labourers thrown out of employment by the railways; and all this in order that Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham manufacturers, merchants, and cotton-spinners, might establish a monstrous monopoly in railroads! However, there was always this consolation to wind up with,—that the canals would beat the railroads, and that, even if the latter were made, the public would not use them, nor trust either their persons or their goods to the risks of railway accidents and explosions. They would thus prove only monuments of the folly of their projectors, whom they must inevitably involve in ruin and disaster.
Chap, xxvi.] SANITARY OBJECTIONS TO RAILWAYS. 343
Sanitary objections were also urged in opposition to railways; and many wise doctors strongly inveighed against tunnels. Sir Anthony Carlisle insisted that " tunnels would expose healthy people to colds, catarrhs and consumption." The noise, the darkness, and the dangers of tunnel travelling were depicted in all their horrors. Worst of all, however, was "the destruction of The atmospheric air," as Dr. Lardner termed it. Elaborate calculations were made by that gentleman to prove that the provision of ventilating shafts would be altogether insufficient to prevent the dangers arising from the combustion of coke, producing carbonic acid gas, which, in large quantities, was fatal to life. He showed, for instance, that in the proposed Box Tunnel, on the Great Western Railway, the passage of a load of 100 tons would deposit about 3090 lbs. of noxious gases, incapable of supporting life! Here was an uncomfortable prospect of suffocation for passengers between London and Bristol. But steps were adopted to allay these formidable sources of terror. Solemn documents, in the form of certificates, were got up and published, signed by several of the most distinguished physicians of the day, attesting the perfect wholesomeness of tunnels, and the purity of the air in them.* Perhaps they went further than was necessary, in alleging, what certainly subsequent experience has not verified, that the atmosphere of the tunnel was "dry, of an agreeable temperature, and free from smell." Mr. Stephenson declared his conviction that a tunnel twenty miles long could be worked safely, and without more danger to life than a railway in the open air; but at the same time, he admitted that tunnels were nuisances, which he endeavoured to avoid wherever practicable.
* See Report of Experiments made in the Primrose Hill Tunnel of the London and Birmingham Railway, signed by Drs. Paris and Watson, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Phillips, and Mr. O. Lucas; and Report on the Leeds and Sclby Tunnel, signed by Drs. Davy, Rothman, and Williamson.