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CHAP, XXXVI.] 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 Éloge, 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.
RAILWAY SYSTEM AND ITS RESULTS.
BY ROBERT STEPHENSON, Esq., M.P.
[As a fitting conclusion to the Life of George Stephenson, we append the following résumé of the Railway system and its results, as delivered by his distinguished son before the Institution of Civil Engineers, on taking the chair after his election as their President, in January, 1856, and which we republish from the Minutes of Proceedings of that Institution, by permission of the Council.]
OUR British RAILWAYS present a fertile theme for observation, and in considering them, in their varied relations, my chief object will be to suggest topics for communications and discussion at the meetings over which I hope to have the honour of presiding.
The general extent and scheme of the network of railways stretching from beyond Aberdeen in the north, to Portsmouth in the south; and between Yarmouth and Milford Haven on the east and west of the United Kingdom, are well known to you. To these must be added the Irish lines, now becoming very extensive, and exercising the most beneficial influence on that portion of the Empire.
Let us look, in the first instance, to the length of these railways. At the end of 1854 the total length of the lines authorised by