Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. XXXVI.

HIS CHARACTER.

The life of George Stephenson, though imperfectly portrayed in the preceding pages, will be found to contain many valuable lessons. His was the life of a true man, and presented a striking combination of those sterling qualities which we are proud to regard as essentially English.

Doubtless he owed much to his birth, belonging as he did to the hardy and persevering race of the north,-a race less supple, soft, and polished than the people of the more southern districts of England, but, like their Danish progenitors, full of courage, vigour, ingenuity, and persevering industry. Their strong, guttural speech, which sounds so harsh and unmusical in southern ears, is indeed but a type of their nature. When Mr. Stephenson was struggling to give utterance to his views upon the locomotive before the Committee of the House of Commons, those who did not know him supposed he was “a foreigner.” Before long the world saw in him an Englishman, stout-hearted and true,- one of those master minds who, by energetic action in new fields of industry, impress their character from time to time upon the age and nation to which they belong.

The poverty of his parents being such that they could not give him any, even the very simplest, education, beyond the good example of integrity and industry, he was early left.to shift for himself, and compelled to be self-reliant. Having the will to learn, he soon forced for himself a way. No beginning could have been more humble than his ; but he

CHAP. xxxvi.] PERSEVERANCE. — THOROUGHNESS.

497

persevered: he had determined to learn, and he did learn. To such a resolution as his, nothing really beneficial in life is denied. He might have said, like Sebastian Bach, “I was industrious; and whoever is equally sedulous will be equally successful.”

The whole secret of Mr. Stephenson's success in life was his careful improvement of time, which is the rock out of which fortunes are carved and great characters formed. He believed in genius to the extent that Buffon did when he said that “patience is genius;" or as some other thinker put it, when he defined genius to be the power of making efforts. But he never would have it that he was a genius, or that he had done any thing which other men, equally laborious and persevering as himself, could not have accomplished. He repeatedly said to the young men about him : “ Do as I have done — persevere !"

Every step of advance which he made was conquered by patient labour. When an engineman, he systematically took his engine to pieces on Saturday afternoons, while the works were at a stand, for the purpose of cleaning it thoroughly, and “ gaining insight.” He thus gradually mastered the mechanism of the steam-engine, so that, when opportunity offered, he was enabled to improve it, and to make it work even when its own maker was baffled. He practically studied hydraulics in the same plodding way, when acting as plugman ; and when all the local pump doctors at Killingworth were in despair, he stepped in, and successfully applied the knowledge which he had so laboriously gained. A man of such a temper and purpose could not but succeed in life.

His long labour to invent the perpetual motion was not lost. The attempt did him good, stimulating his inventiveness and mechanical ingenuity. He afterwards used to lament this loss of time, and said that if he had enjoyed the opportunity which young men of this day have, of knowing

KK

from books what others had done before them, he would have been spared much labour and mortification. Sometimes he thought he had hit upon discoveries, which he afterwards found were but old fallacies long since exploded. Yet the very effort to overcome difficulty was of itself an education. By wrestling with it, he strengthened his judgment and sharpened his skill. Being in earnest in his struggle, he was compelled to consider the subject in all its relations; and this would not suffer him to be superficial. He thus acquired practical ability through his steadfast efforts even after the impracticable; and, like other inventors, he gained his knowledge of what will do, by successive trials of what will not do.

Whether working as a brakesman or an engineer, his mind was always full of the work in hand. He gave himself thoroughly up to it. Like the painter, he might say that he had become great “ by neglecting nothing.” Whatever he was engaged upon, he was as careful of the details as if each were itself the whole. He did all thoroughly and honestly. There was no “scamping” with him. When a workman he put his brains and labour into his work; and when a master he put his conscience and character into it. He would have no slop-work executed merely for the sake of profit. The materials must be as genuine as the workmanship was skilful. The structures which he designed and executed were distinguished for their thoroughness and solidity ; his locomotives were famous for their durability and excellent working qualities. The engines which he sent to the United States in 1832 are still in good condition *; and even the engines built by him for the Killingworth colliery,

* In 1852, Major-General Mac Neil (U. S.) said: “Their best engines were imported from England. Those supplied in 1832, by Stephenson and Co., were still in excellent working order."Discussion at the Institution of Civil Engineers, April 27th, 1852.

CHAP. XXXVI.] HIS ENERGY AND DETERMINATION.

499

years ago, are working steadily there to this day. All his work was honest, representing the actual character of the man.

The battle which Mr. Stephenson fought for the locomotive—and he himself always spoke of it as a “battle”— would have discouraged most other men; but it only served to bring into prominence that energy and determination which formed the back-bone of his character. “I have fought,” said he, “ for the locomotive single-handed for nearly twenty years, having no engineer to help me until I had reared engineers under my own care.” The leading engineers of the day were against him, without exception; yet he did not despair. He had laid hold of a great idea, and he stuck by it; his mind was locked and bolted to the results. “I put up,” he says, “ with every rebuff, determined not to be put down.” When the use of his locomotive on the Liverpool and Manchester line was reported against, and the employment of fixed engines recommended instead, Mr. Stephenson implored the directors, who were no engineers, only to afford a fair opportunity for a trial of the locomotive. Their common sense came to his rescue. They had immense confidence in that Newcastle engine-wright. He had already made stedfast friends of several of the most influential men amongst them, who valued his manly uprightness and integrity, and were strongly disposed to believe in him, though all the engineering world stood on the one side, and he alone on the other. His patient purpose, not less than his intense earnestness, carried them away. They adopted his recommendation, and offered a prize of 5001. for the best locomotive. Though many proclaimed the Liverpool men to be as great maniacs as Stephenson, yet the result proved the practical sagacity of the directors and the skill of their engineer; but it was the determined purpose of the latter which secured the triumph of the locomotive. His ret a, fuarded on sound convictions, was the precursor of what he eventually achieved; and his intense anticipation ras tut the true presentiment of what he was afterwards f.uoi capable of scromplishing.

He was ready to turn his hand to any thing, – shoes and deks, railways and hcomotives. He contrived his safety lamp with the object of aving pitmen's lives, and perilled his cwnke in testing it. Whatever work was nearest him, he turned to and did it. With him to resolve was to do. Many men kner far more than he; but none was more ready for:hwith to apply what he did know to practical purposes.

Sir J shua Walmsler mentions, that when examining the works of the Orleans and Tours Railway, Mr. Stephenson, seeing a large number of excarators filling and wheeling sand in a cutting, at a great waste of time and labour, after the manner of foreign narvies, he rent up to the men and sa:he would show them how to fill their barrow in half the time. He showed them the proper position in which to stand so as to exercise the greatest amount of power with the least waste of strength; and be filled the barrow with comparative ease again and again in their presence, to the great delight of the workmen. When passing through his own workshops, he would point out to his men how to sare labour and to get through their work skilfully and with ease. His energy imparted itself to others, quickening and influencing them as strong characters always do,- flowing down into theirs, and bringing out their best powers. He was the zealous friend of Mechanics’ Institutes, and often addressed them in his homely but always interesting style,- cheering young men on by the recital of his own difficulties, which he had orercome through persererance.

His deportment towards the workmen employed under him was familiar, yet firm and consistent. As he respected their manhood, so did they respect his masterhood. Although

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »