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system were recommended and adopted; and in 1837 a law was passed, authorising the construction of additional lines, — from Ghent to Mouscron on the French frontier,— from Courtray to Tournai, — from Brain-le-Comte to Namur,with several smaller branches. These, with the lines previously authorised, made a total length of 341 English miles.
Much diligence was displayed by the government in pushing on the works; the representatives of the people in the Chambers now surpassing even the king himself in their anticipation of the great public benefits to be derived from railways. The first twelve miles between Brussels and Malines were opened in 1835, a year after the passing of the law; and successive portions were opened from time to time, until the year 1844, when the entire national system was completed and opened, after a total outlay on works, stations, and plant, of about six and a half millions sterling. Never did any legislature expend public money in a wiser manner for the promotion of the common good. The Belgian lines being executed as an entire system by the state, there was no wasteful parliamentary expenditure, and no construction of unnecessary duplicate lines; the whole capital invested was remunerative; and the Belgian people thus obtained the full advantages of railways at less than one-half the average cost of those in England.
At the invitation of the king, Mr. Stephenson made a visit to Belgium in 1837, on the occasion of the public opening of the line from Brussels to Ghent. The event was celebrated with great ceremony. At Brussels there was a public procession, and another at Ghent on the arrival of the train. Mr. Stephenson and his party accompanied it to the Public Hall, there to dine with the chief ministers of state, the municipal authorities, and about five hundred of the principal inhabitants of the city; the English ambassador being also
drank, that of Mr. Stephenson was proposed; on which the whole assembly rose up, amidst great excitement and loud applause, and made their way to where he sat, in order to jingle glasses with him, greatly to his own amazement. On the day following, Mr. Stephenson dined with the king and queen at their own table at Laaken, by special invitation; afterwards accompanying his majesty and suite to a public ball given by the municipality of Brussels, in honour of the opening of the line to Ghent, as well as of their distinguished English guest. On entering the room, the general and excited inquiry was, “ Which is Stephenson ?" The English engineer had never before known that he was esteemed so great a man.
When the success of railways in Belgium was no longer matter of conjecture, capitalists were ready to come forward and undertake their formation, without aid from the government; and several independent companies were formed in England for the construction of new lines in the country. Mr. Stephenson was professionally consulted respecting several of these in the year 1845. The Sambre and Meuse Company having obtained the concession of a line from the legislature *, Mr. Stephenson proceeded to Belgium, for the purpose of examining in person the district through which the proposed line was to pass. He was accompanied on this occasion by Mr. Sopwith and Mr. Starbuck: the former gentleman a highly distinguished Northumberland
* The king, in his speech to the Chambers, in opening the session of 1845, said, “Ever since the National Railways have reached the French and German frontiers, the conveyance of goods and passengers, and the amount of the receipts, have rapidly and unceasingly advanced. The results obtained this year have surpassed my expectations. Your last session was distinguished, towards its close, by the vote of several projects of railways and canals. The favourable reception given to foreign capitalists has led to many demands for the concession of lines. Some of these demands, after being examined, will be submitted to your deliberation."
geologist, intimately conversant with the coal-bearing strata, who had already published an elaborate report on the nature and extent of the coal and mineral districts of the Sambre and Meuse.
Mr. Stephenson went carefully over the whole length of the proposed line, as far as Couvin, the Forest of Ardennes, and Rocroi, across the French frontier. He examined the bearings of the coal-field, the slate and marble quarries, and the numerous iron mines in existence between the Sambre and the Meuse, carefully exploring the ravines which extended through the district, in order to satisfy himself that the best possible route had been selected. He was delighted with the novelty of the journey, the beauty of the scenery, and the industry of the population. His companions were entertained by his ample and varied stores of practical information on all subjects; and his conversation was full of reminiscences of his youth, on which he always delighted to dwell when in the society of his more intimate friends and associates. The journey was varied by a visit to the coalmines near Jemappe, where Mr. Stephenson examined with interest the mode adopted by the Belgian miners of draining the pits, their engines and brakeing machines, so familiar to him in his early life. At intervals of their journey, Mr. Stephenson prepared, in conjunction with Mr. Sopwith, the draft of a report embodying the result of their investigations, which was presented to the Sambre and Meuse Company, and afterwards published.
The engineers of Belgium took the opportunity of Mr. Stephenson's visit to their country to invite him to a magnificent banquet at Brussels. The Public Hall, in which they entertained him, was gaily decorated with flags, prominent amongst which was the Union Jack, in honour of their distinguished guest. A handsome marble pedestal, ornamented room. The chair was occupied by M. Massui, the Chief Director of the National Railways of Belgium; and the most eminent scientific men in the kingdom were present Their reception of “ the father of railways” was of the most enthusiastic description. Mr. Stephenson was greatly pleased with the entertainment. Not the least interesting incident of the evening was his observing, when the dinner was about half over, a model of a locomotive engine placed upon the centre table, under a triumphal arch. Turning suddenly to his friend Sopwith, he exclaimed, “Do you see the · Rocket?** It was indeed the model of that celebrated engine; and Mr. Stephenson prized the compliment thus paid him, perhaps more than all the encomiums of the evening.
The next day (April 5th) King Leopold invited him to a private interview at the palace. Accompanied by Mr. Sopwith, he proceeded to Laaken, and was very cordially received by his majesty. Nothing was more remarkable in Mr. Stephenson than his extreme ease and self-possession in the presence of distinguished and highly-educated persons. The king immediately entered into familiar conversation with him, discussing the railway project which had been the object of Mr. Stephenson's visit to Belgium, and then the structure of the Belgian coal-fields, — the king expressing his sense of the great importance of economy in a fuel which had become indispensable to the comfort and well being of society, which was the basis of all manufactures, and the vital power of railway locomotion. The subject was always a favourite one with Mr. Stephenson, and, encouraged by the king, he proceeded to describe to him the geological structure of Belgium, the original formation of coal, its subsequent elevation by volcanic forces, and the vast amount of denudation. In describing the coal-beds, he used his hat as a sort of model to illustrate his meaning; and the eyes of the king were fixed upon it as he proceeded with his
CHAP. XXXIII.] INTERVIEW WITH KING LEOPOLD.
interesting description. The conversation then passed to the rise and progress of trade and manufactures, Mr. Stephenson pointing out how closely they everywhere followed the coal, being mainly dependent upon it, as it were, for their very existence. .
The king seemed greatly pleased with the interview, and at its close expressed himself obliged by the interesting information which Mr. Stephenson had given him. Shaking hands cordially with both the gentlemen, and wishing them success in all their important undertakings, he bade them adieu. As they were leaving the palace, Mr. Stephenson, bethinking him of the model by which he had just been illustrating the Belgian coal-fields, said to his friend, “By the bye, Sopwith, I was afraid the king would see the inside of my hat; it's such a shocking bad one !” Little could George Stephenson, when brakesman at a coal-pit, have dreamt that, in the course of his life, he should be admitted to an interview with a monarch, and describe to him the manner in which the geological foundations of his kingdom had been laid !
In the course of the same year Mr. Stephenson paid a second visit to Belgium, for the purpose of examining the direction of the proposed West Flanders Railway, and of suggesting any alterations which his judgment might point out. The results of his investigations were set forth in his report of August, 1845, in which he recommended several important alterations, with a view to facilitate the execution of the works, and to increase the traffic of the line. The inspection of the country lasted ten days. After the concession of this railway had been made to the English Company, other parties appeared in the field, and projected lines which, if carried out, would seriously affect the success of the West Flanders project. The government of King