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Biographies of Working Men by Grant Allen

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My acknowledgments are due to Dr. Smiles's "Lives of the Engineers,"
"Life of the Stephensons," and "Life of a Scotch Naturalist;" to Lady
Eastlake's "Life of Gibson;" to Mr. Holden's "Life of Sir William
Herschel;" to M. Seusier's "J. F. Millet, Sa Vie et Ses OEuvres;" and to
Mr. Thayer's "Life of President Garfield;" from which most of the facts
here narrated have been derived.

G. A.



High up among the heather-clad hills which form the broad dividing
barrier between England and Scotland, the little river Esk brawls and
bickers over its stony bed through a wild land of barren braesides and
brown peat mosses, forming altogether some of the gloomiest and most
forbidding scenery in the whole expanse of northern Britain. Almost the
entire bulk of the counties of Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, and Ayr is
composed of just such solemn desolate upland wolds, with only a few
stray farms or solitary cottages sprinkled at wide distances over their
bare bleak surface, and with scarcely any sign of life in any part save
the little villages which cluster here and there at long intervals
around some stern and simple Scottish church. Yet the hardy people who
inhabit this wild and chilly moorland country may well be considered to
rank among the best raw material of society in the whole of Britain; for
from the peasant homes of these southern Scotch Highlands have come
forth, among a host of scarcely less distinguished natives, three men,
at least, who deserve to take their place in the very front line of
British thinkers or workers--Thomas Telford, Robert Burns, and Thomas
Carlyle. By origin, all three alike belonged in the very strictest sense
to the working classes; and the story of each is full of lessons or of
warnings for every one of us: but that of Telford is perhaps the most
encouraging and the most remarkable of all, as showing how much may be
accomplished by energy and perseverance, even under the most absolutely
adverse and difficult circumstances.

Near the upper end of Eskdale, in the tiny village of Westerkirk, a
young shepherd's wife gave birth to a son on the 9th of August, 1757.
Her husband, John Telford, was employed in tending sheep on a
neighbouring farm, and he and his Janet occupied a small cottage close
by, with mud walls and rudely thatched roof, such as in southern England
even the humblest agricultural labourer would scarcely consent willingly
to inhabit. Before the child was three months old, his father died; and
Janet Telford was left alone in the world with her unweaned baby. But in
remote country districts, neighbours are often more neighbourly than in
great towns; and a poor widow can manage to eke out a livelihood for
herself with an occasional lift from the helping hands of friendly
fellow-villagers. Janet Telford had nothing to live upon save her own
ten fingers; but they were handy enough, after the sturdy Scotch
fashion, and they earned some sort of livelihood in a humble way for
herself and her fatherless boy. The farmers about found her work on
their farms at haymaking or milking, and their wives took the child home
with them while its mother was busy labouring in the harvest fields.
Amid such small beginnings did the greatest of English engineers before
the railway era receive his first hard lessons in the art of life.

After her husband's death, the poor widow removed from her old cottage
to a still more tiny hut, which she shared with a neighbour--a very
small hut, with a single door for both families; and here young Tam
Telford spent most of his boyhood in the quiet honourable poverty of the
uncomplaining rural poor. As soon as he was big enough to herd sheep, he
was turned out upon the hillside in summer like any other ragged country
laddie, and in winter he tended cows, receiving for wages only his food
and money enough to cover the cost of his scanty clothing. He went to
school, too; how, nobody now knows: but he _did_ go, to the parish
school of Westerkirk, and there he learnt with a will, in the winter
months, though he had to spend the summer on the more profitable task of
working in the fields. To a steady earnest boy like young Tam Telford,
however, it makes all the difference in the world that he should have
been to school, no matter how simply. Those twenty-six letters of the
alphabet, once fairly learnt, are the key, after all, to all the book-
learning in the whole world. Without them, the shepherd-boy might remain
an ignorant, unprogressive shepherd all his life long, even his
undeniable native energy using itself up on nothing better than a
wattled hurdle or a thatched roof; with them, the path is open before
him which led Tam Telford at last to the Menai Bridge and Westminster

When Tam had gradually eaten his way through enough thin oatmeal
porridge (with very little milk, we fear) to make him into a hearty lad
of fifteen, it began to be high time for him to choose himself a final
profession in life, such as he was able. And here already the born
tastes of the boy began to show themselves: for he had no liking for the
homely shepherd's trade; he felt a natural desire for a chisel and a
hammer--the engineer was there already in the grain--and he was
accordingly apprenticed to a stonemason in the little town of Lochmaben,
beyond the purple hills to eastward. But his master was a hard man; he
had small mercy for the raw lad; and after trying to manage with him for
a few months, Tam gave it up, took the law into his own hands, and ran
away. Probably the provocation was severe, for in after-life Telford
always showed himself duly respectful to constituted authority; and we
know that petty self-made master-workmen are often apt to be excessively
severe to their own hired helpers, and especially to helpless lads or
young apprentices. At any rate, Tam wouldn't go back; and in the end, a
well-to-do cousin, who had risen to the proud position of steward at the
great hall of the parish, succeeded in getting another mason at
Langholm, the little capital of Eskdale, to take over the runaway for
the remainder of the term of his indentures.

At Langholm, a Scotch country town of the quietest and sleepiest
description, Tam Telford passed the next eight years of his uneventful
early life, first as an apprentice, and afterwards as a journeyman mason
of the humblest type. He had a good mother, and he was a good son. On
Saturday nights he generally managed to walk over to the cottage at
Westerkirk, and accompany the poor widow to the Sunday services at the
parish kirk. As long as she lived, indeed, he never forgot her; and one
of the first tasks he set himself when he was out of his indentures was
to cut a neat headstone with a simple but beautiful inscription for the
grave of that shepherd father whom he had practically never seen. At
Langholm, an old maiden lady, Miss Pasley, interested herself kindly in
Janet Telford's rising boy. She lent him what of all things the eager
lad most needed--books; and the young mason applied himself to them in
all his spare moments with the vigorous ardour and perseverance of
healthy youth. The books he read were not merely those which bore
directly or indirectly upon his own craft: if they had been, Tam Telford
might have remained nothing more than a journeyman mason all the days of
his life. It is a great mistake, even from the point of view of mere
worldly success, for a young man to read or learn only what "pays" in
his particular calling; the more he reads and learns, the more will he
find that seemingly useless things "pay" in the end, and that what
apparently pays least, often really pays most in the long run. This is
not the only or the best reason why every man should aim at the highest
possible cultivation of his own talents, be they what they may; but it
is in itself a very good reason, and it is a sufficient answer for those
who would deter us from study of any high kind on the ground that it
"does no good." Telford found in after-life that his early acquaintance
with sound English literature did do him a great deal of good: it opened
and expanded his mind; it trained his intelligence; it stored his brain
with images and ideas which were ever after to him a source of
unmitigated delight and unalloyed pleasure. He read whenever he had
nothing else to do. He read Milton with especial delight; and he also
read the verses that his fellow-countryman, Rob Burns, the Ayrshire
ploughman, was then just beginning to speak straight to the heart of
every aspiring Scotch peasant lad. With these things Tam Telford filled
the upper stories of his brain quite as much as with the trade details
of his own particular useful handicraft; and the result soon showed that
therein Tam Telford had not acted uncannily or unwisely.

Nor did he read only; he wrote too--verses, not very good, nor yet very
bad, but well expressed, in fairly well chosen language, and with due
regard to the nice laws of metre and of grammar, which is in itself a
great point. Writing verse is an occupation at which only very few even
among men of literary education ever really succeed; and nine-tenths of
published verse is mere mediocre twaddle, quite unworthy of being put
into the dignity of print. Yet Telford did well for all that in trying
his hand, with but poor result, at this most difficult and dangerous of
all the arts. His rhymes were worth nothing as rhymes; but they were
worth a great deal as discipline and training: they helped to form the
man, and that in itself is always something. Most men who have in them
the power to do any great thing pass in early life through a verse-
making stage. The verses never come to much; but they leave their stamp
behind them; and the man is all the better in the end for having thus
taught himself the restraint, the command of language, the careful
choice of expressions, the exercise of deliberate pains in composition,
which even bad verse-making necessarily implies. It is a common mistake
of near-sighted minds to look only at the immediate results of things,
without considering their remoter effects. When Tam Telford, stonemason
of Langholm, began at twenty-two years of age to pen poetical epistles
to Robert Burns, most of his fellow-workmen doubtless thought he was
giving himself up to very foolish and nonsensical practices; but he was
really helping to educate Thomas Telford, engineer of the Holyhead Road
and the Caledonian Canal, for all his future usefulness and greatness.

As soon as Tam was out of his indentures, he began work as a journeyman
mason at Langholm on his own account, at the not very magnificent wages
of eighteenpence a day. That isn't much; but at any rate it is an
independence. Besides building many houses in his own town, Tam made
here his first small beginning in the matter of roads and highways, by
helping to build a bridge over the Esk at Langholm. He was very proud of
his part in this bridge, and to the end of his life he often referred to
it as his first serious engineering work. Many of the stones still bear
his private mark, hewn with the tool into their solid surface, with
honest workmanship which helps to explain his later success. But the
young mason was beginning to discover that Eskdale was hardly a wide
enough field for his budding ambition. He could carve the most careful
headstones; he could cut the most ornamental copings for doors or
windows; he could even build a bridge across the roaring flooded Esk;
but he wanted to see a little of the great world, and learn how men and
masons went about their work in the busy centres of the world's
activity. So, like a patriotic Scotchman that he was, he betook himself
straight to Edinburgh, tramping it on foot, of course, for railways did
not yet exist, and coaches were not for the use of such as young Thomas

He arrived in the grey old capital of Scotland in the very nick of time.
The Old Town, a tangle of narrow alleys and close courtyards, surrounded
by tall houses with endless tiers of floors, was just being deserted by
the rich and fashionable world for the New Town, which lies beyond a
broad valley on the opposite hillside, and contains numerous streets of
solid and handsome stone houses, such as are hardly to be found in any
other town in Britain, except perhaps Bath and Aberdeen. Edinburgh is
always, indeed, an interesting place for an enthusiastic lover of
building, be he architect or stonemason; for instead of being built of
brick like London and so many other English centres, it is built partly
of a fine hard local sandstone and partly of basaltic greenstone; and
besides its old churches and palaces, many of the public buildings are
particularly striking and beautiful architectural works. But just at the
moment when young Telford walked wearily into Edinburgh at the end of
his long tramp, there was plenty for a stout strong mason to do in the
long straight stone fronts of the rising New Town. For two years, he
worked away patiently at his trade in "the grey metropolis of the
North;" and he took advantage of the special opportunities the place
afforded him to learn drawing, and to make minute sketches in detail of
Holyrood Palace, Heriot's Hospital, Roslyn Chapel, and all the other
principal old buildings in which the neighbourhood of the capital is
particularly rich. So anxious, indeed, was the young mason to perfect
himself by the study of the very best models in his own craft, that when
at the end of two years he walked back to revisit his good mother in
Eskdale, he took the opportunity of making drawings of Melrose Abbey,
the most exquisite and graceful building that the artistic stone-cutters
of the Middle Ages have handed down to our time in all Scotland.

This visit to Eskdale was really Telford's last farewell to his old
home, before setting out on a journey which was to form the turning-
point in his own history, and in the history of British engineering as
well. In Scotch phrase, he was going south. And after taking leave of
his mother (not quite for the last time) he went south in good earnest,
doing this journey on horseback; for his cousin the steward had lent him
a horse to make his way southward like a gentleman. Telford turned where
all enterprising young Scotchmen of his time always turned: towards the
unknown world of London--that world teeming with so many possibilities
of brilliant success or of miserable squalid failure. It was the year
1782, and the young man was just twenty-five. No sooner had he reached
the great city than he began looking about him for suitable work. He had
a letter of introduction to the architect of Somerset House, whose
ornamental fronts were just then being erected, facing the Strand and
the river; and Telford was able to get a place at once on the job as a
hewer of the finer architectural details, for which both his taste and
experience well fitted him. He spent some two years in London at this
humble post as a stone-cutter; but already he began to aspire to
something better. He earned first-class mason's wages now, and saved
whatever he did not need for daily expenses. In this respect, the
improvidence of his English fellow-workmen struck the cautious young
Scotchman very greatly. They lived, he said, from week to week entirely;
any time beyond a week seemed unfortunately to lie altogether outside
the range of their limited comprehension.

At the end of two years in London, Telford's skill and study began to
bear good fruit. His next engagement was one which raised him for the
first time in his life above the rank of a mere journeyman mason. The
honest workman had attracted the attention of competent judges. He
obtained employment as foreman of works of some important buildings in
Portsmouth Dockyard. A proud man indeed was Thomas Telford at this
change of fortune, and very proudly he wrote to his old friends in
Eskdale, with almost boyish delight, about the trust reposed in him by
the commissioners and officers, and the pains he was taking with the
task entrusted to him. For he was above all things a good workman, and
like all good workmen he felt a pride and an interest in all the jobs he
took in hand. His sense of responsibility and his sensitiveness, indeed,
were almost too great at times for his own personal comfort. Things
_will_ go wrong now and then, even with the greatest care; well-
planned undertakings will not always pay, and the best engineering does
not necessarily succeed in earning a dividend; but whenever such mishaps
occurred to his employers, Telford felt the disappointment much too
keenly, as though he himself had been to blame for their miscalculations
or over-sanguine hopes. Still, it is a good thing to put one's heart in
one's work, and so much Thomas Telford certainly did.

About this time, too, the rising young mason began to feel that he must
get a little more accurate scientific knowledge. The period for general
study had now passed by, and the period for special trade reading had
set in. This was well. A lad cannot do better than lay a good foundation
of general knowledge and general literature during the period when he is
engaged in forming his mind: a young man once fairly launched in life
may safely confine himself for a time to the studies that bear directly
upon his own special chosen subject. The thing that Telford began
closely to investigate was--lime. Now, lime makes mortar; and without
lime, accordingly, you can have no mason. But to know anything really
about lime, Telford found he must read some chemistry; and to know
anything really about chemistry he must work at it hard and
unremittingly. A strict attention to one's own business, understood in
this very broad and liberal manner, is certainly no bad thing for any
struggling handicraftsman, whatever his trade or profession may happen
to be.

In 1786, when Telford was nearly thirty, a piece of unexpected good luck
fell to his lot. And yet it was not so much good luck as due recognition
of his sterling qualities by a wealthy and appreciative person. Long
before, while he was still in Eskdale, one Mr. Pulteney, a man of social
importance, who had a large house in the bleak northern valley, had
asked his advice about the repairs of his own mansion. We may be sure
that Telford did his work on that occasion carefully and well; for now,
when Mr. Pulteney wished to restore the ruins of Shrewsbury Castle as a
dwelling-house, he sought out the young mason who had attended to his
Scotch property, and asked him to superintend the proposed alterations
in his Shropshire castle. Nor was that all: by Mr. Pulteney's influence,
Telford was shortly afterwards appointed to be county surveyor of public
works, having under his care all the roads, bridges, gaols, and public
buildings in the whole of Shropshire. Thus the Eskdale shepherd-boy rose
at last from the rank of a working mason, and attained the well-earned
dignity of an engineer and a professional man.

Telford had now a fair opportunity of showing the real stuff of which he
was made. Those, of course, were the days when railroads had not yet
been dreamt of; when even roads were few and bad; when communications
generally were still in a very disorderly and unorganized condition. It
is Telford's special glory that he reformed and altered this whole state
of things; he reduced the roads of half Britain to system and order; he
made the finest highways and bridges then ever constructed; and by his
magnificent engineering works, especially his aqueducts, he paved the
way unconsciously but surely for the future railways. If it had not been
for such great undertakings as Telford's Holyhead Road, which
familiarized men's minds with costly engineering operations, it is
probable that projectors would long have stood aghast at the alarming
expense of a nearly level iron road running through tall hills and over
broad rivers the whole way from London to Manchester.

At first, Telford's work as county surveyor lay mostly in very small
things indeed--mere repairs of sidepaths or bridges, which gave him
little opportunity to develop his full talents as a born engineer. But
in time, being found faithful in small things, his employers, the county
magistrates, began to consult him more and more on matters of
comparative importance. First, it was a bridge to be built across the
Severn; then a church to be planned at Shrewsbury, and next, a second
church in Coalbrookdale. If he was thus to be made suddenly into an
architect, Telford thought, almost without being consulted in the
matter, he must certainly set out to study architecture. So, with
characteristic vigour, he went to work to visit London, Worcester,
Gloucester, Bath, and Oxford, at each place taking care to learn
whatever was to be learned in the practice of his new art. Fortunately,
however, for Telford and for England, it was not architecture in the
strict sense that he was finally to practise as a real profession.
Another accident, as thoughtless people might call it, led him to adopt
engineering in the end as the path in life he elected to follow. In
1793, he was appointed engineer to the projected Ellesmere Canal.

In the days before railways, such a canal as this was an engineering
work of the very first importance. It was to connect the Mersey, the
Dee, and the Severn, and it passed over ground which rendered necessary
some immense aqueducts on a scale never before attempted by British
engineers. Even in our own time, every traveller by the Great Western
line between Chester and Shrewsbury must have observed on his right two
magnificent ranges as high arches, which are as noticeable now as ever
for their boldness, their magnitude, and their exquisite construction.
The first of these mighty archways is the Pont Cysylltau aqueduct which
carries the Ellesmere Canal across the wide valley of the Dee, known as
the Vale of Llangollen; the second is the Chirk aqueduct, which takes it
over the lesser glen of a minor tributary, the Ceriog. Both these
beautiful works were designed and carried out entirely by Telford. They
differ from many other great modern engineering achievements in the fact
that, instead of spoiling the lovely mountain scenery into whose midst
they have been thrown, they actually harmonize with it and heighten its
natural beauty. Both works, however, are splendid feats, regarded merely
as efforts of practical skill; and the larger one is particularly
memorable for the peculiarity that the trough for the water and the
elegant parapet at the side are both entirely composed of iron.
Nowadays, of course, there would be nothing remarkable in the use of
such a material for such a purpose; but Telford was the first engineer
to see the value of iron in this respect, and the Pont Cysylltau
aqueduct was one of the earliest works in which he applied the new
material to these unwonted uses. Such a step is all the more remarkable,
because Telford's own education had lain entirely in what may fairly be
called the "stone age" of English engineering; while his natural
predilections as a stonemason might certainly have made him rather
overlook the value of the novel material. But Telford was a man who
could rise superior to such little accidents of habit or training; and
as a matter of fact there is no other engineer to whom the rise of the
present "iron age" in engineering work is more directly and immediately
to be attributed than to himself.

Meanwhile, the Eskdale pioneer did not forget his mother. For years he
had constantly written to her, in _print hand_, so that the letters
might be more easily read by her aged eyes; he had sent her money in
full proportion to his means; and he had taken every possible care to
let her declining years be as comfortable as his altered circumstances
could readily make them. And now, in the midst of this great and
responsible work, he found time to "run down" to Eskdale (very different
"running down" from that which we ourselves can do by the London and
North Western Railway), to see his aged mother once more before she
died. What a meeting that must have been, between the poor old widow of
the Eskdale shepherd, and her successful son, the county surveyor of
Shropshire, and engineer of the great and important Ellesmere Canal!

While Telford was working busily upon his wonderful canal, he had many
other schemes to carry out of hardly less importance, in connection with
his appointment as county surveyor. His beautiful iron bridge across the
Severn at Build was was another application of his favourite metal to the
needs of the new world that was gradually growing up in industrial
England; and so satisfied was he with the result of his experiment (for
though not absolutely the first, it was one of the first iron bridges
ever built) that he proposed another magnificent idea, which
unfortunately was never carried into execution. Old London Bridge had
begun to get a trifle shaky; and instead of rebuilding it, Telford
wished to span the whole river by a single iron arch, whose splendid
dimensions would have formed one of the most remarkable engineering
triumphs ever invented. The scheme, for some good reason, doubtless, was
not adopted; but it is impossible to look at Telford's grand drawing of
the proposed bridge--a single bold arch, curving across the Thames from
side to side, with the dome of St Paul's rising majestically above it--
without a feeling of regret that such a noble piece of theoretical
architecture was never realized in actual fact.

Telford had now come to be regarded as the great practical authority
upon all that concerned roads or communications; and he was reaping the
due money-reward of his diligence and skill. Every day he was called
upon to design new bridges and other important structures in all parts
of the kingdom, but more especially in Scotland and on the Welsh border.
Many of the most picturesque bridges in Britain, which every tourist has
admired, often without inquiring or thinking of the hand that planned
them, were designed by his inventive brain. The exquisite stone arch
which links the two banks of the lesser Scotch Dee in its gorge at
Tongueland is one of the most picturesque; for Telford was a bit of an
artist at heart, and, unlike too many modern railway constructors, he
always endeavoured to make his bridges and aqueducts beautify rather
than spoil the scenery in whose midst they stood. Especially was he
called in to lay out the great system of roads by which the Scotch
Highlands, then so lately reclaimed from a state of comparative
barbarism, were laid open for the great development they have since
undergone. In the earlier part of the century, it is true, a few central
highways had been run through the very heart of that great solid block
of mountains; but these were purely military roads, to enable the king's
soldiers more easily to march against the revolted clans, and they had
hardly more connection with the life of the country than the bare
military posts, like Fort William and Fort Augustus, which guarded their
ends, had to do with the ordinary life of a commercial town. Meanwhile,
however, the Highlands had begun gradually to settle down; and Telford's
roads were intended for the far higher and better purpose of opening out
the interior of northern Scotland to the humanizing influences of trade
and industry.

Fully to describe the great work which the mature engineer constructed
in the Highland region, would take up more space than could be allotted
to such a subject anywhere save in a complete industrial history of
roads and travelling in modern Britain. It must suffice to say that when
Telford took the matter in hand, the vast block of country north and
west of the Great Glen of Caledonia (which divides the Highlands in two
between Inverness and Ben Nevis)--a block comprising the counties of
Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Cromarty, and half Inverness--had literally
nothing within it worthy of being called a road. Wheeled carts or
carriages were almost unknown, and all burdens were conveyed on pack-
horses, or, worse still, on the broad backs of Highland lassies. The
people lived in small scattered villages, and communications from one to
another were well-nigh impossible. Telford set to work to give the
country, not a road or two, but a main system of roads. First, he
bridged the broad river Tay at Dunkeld, so as to allow of a direct route
straight into the very jaws of the Highlands. Then, he also bridged over
the Beauly at Inverness, so as to connect the opposite sides of the
Great Glen with one another. Next, he laid out a number of trunk lines,
running through the country on both banks, to the very north of
Caithness, and the very west of the Isle of Skye. Whoever to this day
travels on the main thoroughfares in the greater Scottish Islands--in
Arran, Islay, Jura, Mull; or in the wild peninsula of Morvern, and the
Land of Lorne; or through the rugged regions of Inverness-shire and
Ross-shire, where the railway has not yet penetrated,--travels
throughout on Telford's roads. The number of large bridges and other
great engineering masterpieces on this network of roads is enormous;
among the most famous and the most beautiful, are the exquisite single
arch which spans the Spey just beside the lofty rearing rocks of Craig
Ellachie, and the bridge across the Dee, beneath the purple heather-clad
braes of Ballater. Altogether, on Telford's Highland roads alone, there
are no fewer than twelve hundred bridges.

Nor were these the only important labours by which Telford ministered to
the comfort and well-being of his Scotch fellow-countrymen. Scotland's
debt to the Eskdale stonemason is indeed deep and lasting. While on
land, he improved her communications by his great lines of roads, which
did on a smaller scale for the Highland valleys what railways have since
done for the whole of the civilized world; he also laboured to improve
her means of transit at sea by constructing a series of harbours along
that bare and inhospitable eastern coast, once almost a desert, but now
teeming with great towns and prosperous industries. It was Telford who
formed the harbour of Wick, which has since grown from a miserable
fishing village into a large town, the capital of the North Sea herring
fisheries. It was he who enlarged the petty port of Peterhead into the
chief station of the flourishing whaling trade. It was he who secured
prosperity for Fraserburgh, and Banff, and many other less important
centres; while even Dundee and Aberdeen, the chief commercial cities of
the east coast, owe to him a large part of their present extraordinary
wealth and industry. When one thinks how large a number of human beings
have been benefited by Telford's Scotch harbour works alone, it is
impossible not to envy a great engineer his almost unlimited power of
permanent usefulness to unborn thousands of his fellow-creatures.

As a canal-maker, Telford was hardly less successful than as a
constructor of roads and harbours. It is true, his greatest work in this
direction was in one sense a failure. He was employed by Government for
many years as the engineer of the Caledonian Canal, which runs up the
Great Glen of Caledonia, connecting the line of lakes whose basins
occupy that deep hollow in the Highland ranges, and so avoiding the
difficult and dangerous sea voyage round the stormy northern capes of
Caithness. Unfortunately, though the canal as an engineering work proved
to be of the most successful character, it has never succeeded as a
commercial undertaking. It was built just at the exact moment when
steamboats were on the point of revolutionizing ocean traffic; and so,
though in itself a magnificent and lordly undertaking, it failed to
satisfy the sanguine hopes of its projectors. But though Telford felt
most bitterly the unavoidable ill success of this great scheme, he might
well have comforted himself by the good results of his canal-building
elsewhere. He went to Sweden to lay out the Gotha Canal, which still
forms the main high-road of commerce between Stockholm and the sea;
while in England itself some of his works in this direction--such as the
improvements on the Birmingham Canal, with its immense tunnel--may
fairly be considered as the direct precursors of the great railway
efforts of the succeeding generation.

The most remarkable of all Telford's designs, however, and the one which
most immediately paved the way for the railway system, was his
magnificent Holyhead Road. This wonderful highway he carried through the
very midst of the Welsh mountains, at a comparatively level height for
its whole distance, in order to form a main road from London to Ireland.
On this road occurs Telford's masterpiece of engineering, the Menai
suspension bridge, long regarded as one of the wonders of the world, and
still one of the most beautiful suspension bridges in all Europe. Hardly
less admirable, however, in its own way is the other suspension bridge
which he erected at Conway, to carry his road across the mouth of the
estuary, beside the grey old castle, with which its charming design
harmonizes so well. Even now it is impossible to drive or walk along
this famous and picturesque highway without being struck at every turn
by the splendid engineering triumphs which it displays throughout its
entire length. The contrast, indeed, between the noble grandeur of
Telford's bridges, and the works on the neighbouring railways, is by no
means flattering in every respect to our too exclusively practical
modern civilization.

Telford was now growing an old man. The Menai bridge was begun in 1819
and finished in 1826, when he was sixty-eight years of age; and though
he still continued to practise his profession, and to design many
valuable bridges, drainage cuts, and other small jobs, that great
undertaking was the last masterpiece of his long and useful life. His
later days were passed in deserved honour and comparative opulence; for
though never an avaricious man, and always anxious to rate his services
at their lowest worth, he had gathered together a considerable fortune
by the way, almost without seeking it. To the last, his happy cheerful
disposition enabled him to go on labouring at the numerous schemes by
which he hoped to benefit the world of workers; and so much cheerfulness
was surely well earned by a man who could himself look back upon so good
a record of work done for the welfare of humanity. At last, on the 2nd
of September, 1834, his quiet and valuable life came gently to a close,
in the seventy-eighth year of his age. He was buried in Westminster
Abbey, and few of the men who sleep within that great national temple
more richly deserve the honour than the Westerkirk shepherd-boy. For
Thomas Telford's life was not merely one of worldly success; it was
still more pre-eminently one of noble ends and public usefulness. Many
working men have raised themselves by their own exertions to a position
of wealth and dignity far surpassing his; few indeed have conferred so
many benefits upon untold thousands of their fellow-men. It is
impossible, even now, to travel in any part of England, Wales, or
Scotland, without coming across innumerable memorials of Telford's great
and useful life; impossible to read the full record of his labours
without finding that numberless structures we have long admired for
their beauty or utility, owe their origin to the honourable, upright,
hardworking, thoroughgoing, journeyman mason of the quiet little Eskdale
village. Whether we go into the drained fens of Lincolnshire, or
traverse the broad roads of the rugged Snowdon region; whether we turn
to St. Katharine's Docks in London, or to the wide quays of Dundee and
those of Aberdeen; whether we sail beneath the Menai suspension bridge
at Bangor, or drive over the lofty arches that rise sheer from the
precipitous river gorge at Cartland, we meet everywhere the lasting
traces of that inventive and ingenious brain. And yet, what lad could
ever have started in the world under apparently more hopeless
circumstances than widow Janet Telford's penniless orphan shepherd-boy
Tam, in the bleakest and most remote of all the lonely border valleys of
southern Scotland?



Any time about the year 1786, a stranger in the streets of the grimy
colliery village of Wylam, near Newcastle, might have passed by without
notice a ragged, barefooted, chubby child of five years old, Geordie
Stephenson by name, playing merrily in the gutter and looking to the
outward eye in no way different from any of the other colliers' children
who loitered about him. Nevertheless, that ragged boy was yet destined
in after-life to alter the whole face of England and the world by those
wonderful railways, which he more than any other man was instrumental in
first constructing; and the story of his life may rank perhaps as one of
the most marvellous in the whole marvellous history of able and
successful British working men.

George Stephenson was born in June, 1781, the son of a fireman who
tended the pumping engine of the neighbouring colliery, and one of a
penniless family of six children. So poor was his father, indeed, that
the whole household lived in a single room, with bare floor and mud
wall; and little Geordie grew up in his own unkempt fashion without any
schooling whatever, not even knowing A from B when he was a big lad of
seventeen. At an age when he ought to have been learning his letters, he
was bird's-nesting in the fields or running errands to the Wylam shops;
and as soon as he was old enough to earn a few pence by light work, he
was set to tend cows at the magnificent wages of twopence a day, in the
village of Dewley Burn, close by, to which his father had then removed.
It might have seemed at first as though the future railway engineer was
going to settle down quietly to the useful but uneventful life of an
agricultural labourer; for from tending cows he proceeded in due time
(with a splendid advance of twopence) to leading the horses at the
plough, spudding thistles, and hoeing turnips on his employer's farm.
But the native bent of a powerful mind usually shows itself very early;
and even during the days when Geordie was still stumbling across the
freshly ploughed clods or driving the cows to pasture with a bunch of
hazel twigs, his taste for mechanics already made itself felt in a very
marked and practical fashion. During all his leisure time, the future
engineer and his chum Bill Thirlwall occupied themselves with making
clay models of engines, and fitting up a winding machine with corks and
twine like those which lifted the colliery baskets. Though Geordie
Stephenson didn't go to school at the village teacher's, he was teaching
himself in his own way by close observation and keen comprehension of
all the machines and engines he could come across.

Naturally, to such a boy, the great ambition of his life was to be
released from the hoeing and spudding, and set to work at his father's
colliery. Great was Geordie's joy, therefore, when at last he was taken
on there in the capacity of a coal-picker, to clear the loads from
stones and rubbish. It wasn't a very dignified position, to be sure, but
it was the first step that led the way to the construction of the
Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Geordie was now fairly free from the
uncongenial drudgery of farm life, and able to follow his own
inclinations in the direction of mechanical labour. Besides, was he not
earning the grand sum of sixpence a day as picker, increased to
eightpence a little later on, when he rose to the more responsible and
serious work of driving the gin-horse? A proud day indeed it was for him
when, at fourteen, he was finally permitted to aid his father in firing
the colliery engine; though he was still such a very small boy that he
used to run away and hide when the owner went his rounds of inspection,
for fear he should be thought too little to earn his untold wealth of a
shilling a day in such a grown-up occupation. Humbler beginnings were
never any man's who lived to become the honoured guest, not of kings and
princes only, but of the truly greatest and noblest in the land.

A coal-miner's life is often a very shifting one; for the coal in
particular collieries gets worked out from time to time; and he has to
remove, accordingly, to fresh quarters, wherever employment happens to
be found. This was very much the case with George Stephenson and his
family; all of them being obliged to remove several times over during
his childish days in search of new openings. Shortly after Geordie had
attained to the responsible position of assistant fireman, his father
was compelled, by the closing of Dewley Burn mine, to get a fresh
situation hard by at Newburn. George accompanied him, and found
employment as full fireman at a small working, whose little engine he
undertook to manage in partnership with a mate, each of them tending the
fire night and day by twelve-hour shifts. Two years later, his wages
were raised to twelve shillings a week, a sure mark of his diligent and
honest work; so that George was not far wrong in remarking to a fellow-
workman at the time that he now considered himself a made man for life.

During all this time, George Stephenson never for a moment ceased to
study and endeavour to understand the working of every part in the
engine that he tended. He was not satisfied, as too many workmen are,
with merely learning the routine work of his own trade; with merely
knowing that he must turn such and such a tap or valve in order to
produce such and such a desired result: he wanted to see for himself how
and why the engine did this or that, what was the use and object of
piston and cylinder and crank and joint and condenser--in short, fully
to understand the underlying principle of its construction. He took it
to pieces for cleaning whenever it was needful; he made working models
of it after his old childish pattern; he even ventured to tinker it up
when out of order on his own responsibility. Thus he learnt at last
something of the theory of the steam-engine, and learnt also by the way
a great deal about the general principles of mechanical science. Still,
even now, incredible as it seems, the future father of railways couldn't
yet read; and he found this terrible drawback told fatally against his
further progress. Whenever he wanted to learn something that he didn't
quite understand, he was always referred for information to a Book. Oh,
those books; those mysterious, unattainable, incomprehensible books; how
they must have bothered and worried poor intelligent and aspiring but
still painfully ignorant young George Stephenson! Though he was already
trying singularly valuable experiments in his own way, he hadn't yet
even begun to learn his letters.

Under these circumstances, George Stephenson, eager and anxious for
further knowledge, took a really heroic resolution. He wasn't ashamed to
go to school. Though now a full workman on his own account, about
eighteen years old, he began to attend the night school at the
neighbouring village of Walbottle, where he took lessons in reading
three evenings every week. It is a great thing when a man is not ashamed
to learn. Many men are; they consider themselves so immensely wise that
they look upon it as an impertinence in anybody to try to tell them
anything they don't know already. Truly wise or truly great men--men
with the capability in them for doing anything worthy in their
generation--never feel this false and foolish shame. They know that most
other people know some things in some directions which they do not, and
they are glad to be instructed in them whenever opportunity offers. This
wisdom George Stephenson possessed in sufficient degree to make him feel
more ashamed of his ignorance than of the steps necessary in order to
conquer it. Being a diligent and willing scholar, he soon learnt to
read, and by the time he was nineteen he had learnt how to write also.
At arithmetic, a science closely allied to his native mechanical bent,
he was particularly apt, and beat all the other scholars at the village
night school. This resolute effort at education was the real turning-
point in George Stephenson's remarkable career, the first step on the
ladder whose topmost rung led him so high that he himself must almost
have felt giddy at the unwonted elevation.

Shortly after, young Stephenson gained yet another promotion in being
raised to the rank of brakesman, whose duty it was to slacken the engine
when the full baskets of coal reached the top of the shaft. This was a
more serious and responsible post than any he had yet filled, and one
for which only the best and steadiest workmen were ever selected. His
wages now amounted to a pound a week, a very large sum in those days for
a skilled working-man.

Meanwhile, George, like most other young men, had fallen in love. His
sweetheart, Fanny Henderson, was servant at the small farmhouse where he
had taken lodgings since leaving his father's home; and though but
little is known about her (for she unhappily died before George had
begun to rise to fame and fortune), what little we do know seems to show
that she was in every respect a fitting wife for the active young
brakesman, and a fitting mother for his equally celebrated son, Robert
Stephenson. Fired by the honourable desire to marry Fanny, with a proper
regard for prudence, George set himself to work to learn cobbling in his
spare moments; and so successfully did he cobble the worn shoes of his
fellow-colliers after working hours, that before long he contrived to
save a whole guinea out of his humble earnings. That guinea was the
first step towards an enormous fortune; a fortune, too, all accumulated
by steady toil and constant useful labour for the ultimate benefit of
his fellow-men. To make a fortune is the smallest and least noble of all
possible personal ambitions; but to save the first guinea which leads us
on at last to independence and modest comfort is indeed an important
turning-point in every prudent man's career. Geordie Stephenson was so
justly proud of his achievement in this respect that he told a friend in
confidence he might now consider himself a rich man.

By the time George was twenty-one, he had saved up enough by constant
care to feel that he might safely embark on the sea of housekeeping. He
was able to take a small cottage lodging for himself and Fanny, at
Willington Quay, near his work at the moment, and to furnish it with the
simple comfort which was all that their existing needs demanded. He
married Fanny on the 28th of November, 1802; and the young couple
proceeded at once to their new home. Here George laboured harder than
ever, as became the head of a family. He was no more ashamed of odd jobs
than he had been of learning the alphabet. He worked overtime at
emptying ballast from ships; he continued to cobble, to cut lasts, and
even to try his hand at regular shoemaking; furthermore, he actually
acquired the art of mending clocks, a matter which lay strictly in his
own line, and he thus earned a tidy penny at odd hours by doctoring all
the rusty or wheezy old timepieces of all his neighbours. Nor did he
neglect his mechanical education meanwhile; for he was always at work
upon various devices for inventing a perpetual motion machine. Now
perpetual motion is the most foolish will-o'-the-wisp that ever engaged
a sane man's attention: the thing has been proved to be impossible from
every conceivable point of view, and the attempt to achieve it, if
pursued to the last point, can only end in disappointment if not in
ruin. Still, for all that, the work George Stephenson spent upon this
unpractical object did really help to give him an insight into
mechanical science which proved very useful to him at a later date. He
didn't discover perpetual motion, but he did invent at last the real
means for making the locomotive engine a practical power in the matter
of travelling.

A year later, George's only son Robert was born; and from that moment
the history of those two able and useful lives is almost inseparable.
During the whole of George Stephenson's long upward struggle, and during
the hard battle he had afterwards to fight on behalf of his grand design
of railways, he met with truer sympathy, appreciation, and comfort from
his brave and gifted son than from any other person whatsoever.
Unhappily, his pleasure and delight in the up-bringing of his boy was
soon to be clouded for a while by the one great bereavement of an
otherwise singularly placid and happy existence. Some two years after
her marriage, Fanny Stephenson died, as yet a mere girl, leaving her
lonely husband to take care of their baby boy alone and unaided. Grief
for this irretrievable loss drove the young widower away for a while
from his accustomed field of work among the Tyneside coal-pits; he
accepted an invitation to go to Montrose in Scotland, to overlook the
working of a large engine in some important spinning-works. He remained
in this situation for one year only; but during that time he managed to
give clear evidence of his native mechanical insight by curing a defect
in the pumps which supplied water to his engine, and which had hitherto
defied the best endeavours of the local engineers. The young father was
not unmindful, either, of his duty to his boy, whom he had left behind
with his grandfather on Tyneside; for he saved so large a sum as L28
during his engagement, which he carried back with him in his pocket on
his return to England.

A sad disappointment awaited him when at last he arrived at home. Old
Robert Stephenson, the father, had met with an accident during George's
absence which made him quite blind, and incapacitated him for further
work. Helpless and poor, he had no resource to save him from the
workhouse except George; but George acted towards him exactly as all men
who have in them a possibility of any good thing always do act under
similar circumstances. He spent L15 of his hard-earned savings to pay
the debts the poor blind old engine-man had necessarily contracted
during his absence, and he took a comfortable cottage for his father and
mother at Killingworth, where he had worked before his removal to
Scotland, and where he now once more obtained employment, still as a
brakesman. In that cottage this good and brave son supported his aged
parents till their death, in all the simple luxury that his small means
would then permit him.

That, however, was not the end of George's misfortunes. Shortly after,
he was drawn by lot as a militiaman; and according to the law of that
time (for this was in 1807, during the very height of the wars against
Napoleon) he must either serve in person or else pay heavily to secure a
substitute. George chose regretfully the latter course--the only one
open to him if he wished still to support his parents and his infant
son. But in order to do so, he had to pay away the whole remainder of
his carefully hoarded savings, and even to borrow L6 to make up the
payment for the substitute. It must have seemed very hard to him to do
this, and many men would have sunk under the blow, become hopeless, or
taken to careless rowdy drinking habits. George Stephenson felt it
bitterly, and gave way for a while to a natural despondency; he would
hardly have been human if he had not; but still, he lived over it, and
in the end worked on again with fuller resolution and vigour than ever.

For several years Geordie, as his fellow-colliers affectionately called
him, continued to live on at one or other of the Killingworth
collieries. In a short time, he entered into a small contract with his
employers for "brakeing" the engines; and in the course of this
contract, he invented certain improvements in the matter of saving wear
and tear of ropes, which were both profitable to himself and also in
some small degree pointed the way toward his future plans for the
construction of railways. It is true, the two subjects have not,
apparently, much in common; but they are connected in this way, that
both proceed upon the principle of reducing the friction to the smallest
possible quantity. It was this principle that Stephenson was gradually
learning to appreciate more and more at its proper value; and it was
this which finally led him to the very summit of a great and pre-
eminently useful profession. The great advantage, indeed, of a level
railway over an up-and-down ordinary road is simply that in the railway
the resistance and friction are almost entirely got rid of.

It was in 1810, when Stephenson was twenty-nine, that his first
experiment in serious engineering was made. A coal-pit had been sunk at
Killingworth, and a rude steam-engine of that time had been set to pump
the water out of its shaft; but, somehow, the engine made no headway
against the rising springs at the bottom of the mine. For nearly a year
the engine worked away in vain, till at last, one Saturday afternoon,
Geordie Stephenson went over to examine her. "Well, George," said a
pitman, standing by, "what do you think of her?" "Man," said George,
boldly, "I could alter her and make her draw. In a week I could let you
all go the bottom." The pitman reported this confident speech of the
young brakesman to the manager; and the manager, at his wits' end for a
remedy, determined to let this fellow Stephenson try his hand at her.
After all, if he did no good, he would be much like all the others; and
anyhow he seemed to have confidence in himself, which, if well grounded,
is always a good thing.

George's confidence _was_ well grounded. It was not the confidence
of ignorance, but that of knowledge. He _understood_ the engine
now, and he saw at once the root of the evil. He picked the engine to
pieces, altered it to suit the requirements of the case, and set it to
work to pump without delay. Sure enough, he kept his word; and within
the week, the mine was dry, and the men were sent to the bottom. This
was a grand job for George's future. The manager, a Mr. Dodds, not only
gave him ten pounds at once as a present, in acknowledgment of his
practical skill, but also appointed him engine-man of the new pit,
another rise in the social scale as well as in the matter of wages.
Dodds kept him in mind for the future, too; and a couple of years later,
on a vacancy occurring, he promoted the promising hand to be engine-
wright of all the collieries under his management, at a salary of L100 a
year. When a man's income comes to be reckoned by the year, rather than
by the week or month, it is a sign that he is growing into a person of
importance. George had now a horse to ride upon, on his visits of
inspection to the various engines; and his work was rather one of
mechanical engineering than of mere ordinary labouring handicraft.

The next few years of George Stephenson's life were mainly taken up in
providing for the education of his boy Robert. He had been a good son,
and he was now a good father. Feeling acutely how much he himself had
suffered, and how many years he had been put back, by his own want of a
good sound rudimentary education, he determined that Robert should not
suffer from a similar cause. Indeed, George Stephenson's splendid
abilities were kept in the background far too long, owing to his early
want of regular instruction. So the good father worked hard to send his
boy to school; not to the village teacher's only, but to a school for
gentlemen's sons at Newcastle. By mending clocks and watches in spare
moments, and by rigid economy in all unnecessary expenses (especially
beer), Stephenson had again gathered together a little hoard, which
mounted up this time to a hundred guineas. A hundred guineas is a
fortune and a capital to a working man. He was therefore rich enough,
not only to send little Robert to school, but even to buy him a donkey,
on which the boy made the journey every day from Killingworth to
Newcastle. This was in 1815, when George was thirty-four, and Robert
twelve. Perhaps no man who ever climbed so high as George Stephenson,
had ever reached so little of the way at so comparatively late an age.
For in spite of his undoubted success, viewed from the point of view of
his origin and early prospects, he was as yet after all nothing more
than the common engine-wright of the Killingworth collieries--a long way
off as yet from the distinguished father of the railway system.

George Stephenson's connection with the locomotive, however, was even
now beginning. Already, in 1816, he and his boy had tried a somewhat
higher flight of mechanical and scientific skill than usual, in the
construction of a sun-dial, which involves a considerable amount of
careful mathematical work; and now George found that the subject of
locomotive engines was being forced by circumstances upon his attention.
From the moment he was appointed engine-wright of the Killingworth
collieries, he began to think about all possible means of hauling coal
at cheaper rates from the pit's mouth to the shipping place on the
river. For that humble object alone--an object that lay wholly within
the line of his own special business--did the great railway projector
set out upon his investigations into the possibilities of the
locomotive. Indeed, in its earliest origin, the locomotive was almost
entirely connected with coals and mining; its application to passenger
traffic on the large scale was quite a later and secondary
consideration. It was only by accident, so to speak, that the true
capabilities of railways were finally discovered in the actual course of
their practical employment. George Stephenson was not the first person
to construct either a locomotive or a tramway. Both were already in use,
in more or less rude forms, at several collieries. But he _was_ the
first person to bring the two to such a pitch of perfection, that what
had been at first a mere clumsy mining contrivance, became developed
into a smooth and easy iron highway for the rapid and convenient
conveyance of goods and passengers over immense distances. Of course,
this great invention, like all other great inventions, was not the work
of one day or one man. Many previous heads had helped to prepare the way
for George Stephenson; and George Stephenson himself had been working at
the subject for many years before he even reached the first stage of
realized endeavour. As early as 1814 he constructed his first locomotive
at Killingworth colliery; it was not until 1822 that he laid the first
rail of his first large line, the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Stephenson's earliest important improvement in the locomotive consisted
in his invention of what is called the steam-blast, by which the steam
is made to increase the draught of the fire, and so largely add to the
effectiveness of the engine. It was this invention that enabled him at
last to make the railway into the great carrier of the world, and to
begin the greatest social and commercial upheaval that has ever occurred
in the whole history of the human race.

Meanwhile, however, George was not entirely occupied with the
consideration of his growing engine. He had the clocks and watches to
mend; he had Robert's schooling to look after; and he had another
practical matter even nearer home than the locomotive on which to
exercise his inventive genius. One day, in 1814, the main gallery of the
colliery caught fire. Stephenson at once descended into the burning pit,
with a chosen band of volunteers, who displayed the usual heroic courage
of colliers in going to the rescue of their comrades; and, at the risk
of their lives, these brave men bricked up the burning portion, and so,
by excluding the air, put out the dangerous fire. Still, even so,
several of the workmen had been suffocated, and one of the pitmen asked
Geordie in dismay whether nothing could be done to prevent such terrible
disasters in future. "The price of coal-mining now," he said, "is
pitmen's lives." Stephenson promised to think the matter over; and he
did think it over with good effect. The result of his thought was the
apparatus still affectionately known to the pitmen as "the Geordie
lamp." It is a lamp so constructed that the flame cannot pass out into
the air outside, and so cause explosions in the dangerous fire-damp
which is always liable to occur abundantly in the galleries of coal
mines. By this invention alone George Stephenson's name and memory might
have been kept green for ever; for his lamp has been the means of saving
thousands of lives from a sudden, a terrible, and a pitiful death. Most
accidents that now occur in mines are due to the neglect of ordinary
precautions, and to the perverse habit of carrying a naked lighted
candle in the hand (contrary to regulations) instead of a carefully
guarded safety lamp. Yet so culpably reckless of their own and other
men's lives are a large number of people everywhere, that in spite of
the most stringent and salutary rules, explosions from this cause (and,
therefore, easily avoidable) take place constantly to the present day,
though far less frequently than before the invention of the Geordie

Curiously enough, at the very time when George Stephenson was busy
inventing his lamp at Killingworth, Sir Humphrey Davy was working at
just the same matter in London; and the two lamps, though a little
different in minor points of construction, are practically the same in
general principle. Now, Sir Humphrey was then the great fashionable
natural philosopher of the day, the favourite of London society, and the
popular lecturer of the Royal Institution. His friends thought it a
monstrous idea that his splendid life-saving apparatus should have been
independently devised by "an engine-wright of Killingworth of the name
of Stephenson--a person not even possessing a knowledge of the elements
of chemistry." This sounds very odd reading at the present day, when the
engine-wright of the name of Stephenson has altered the whole face of
the world, while Davy is chiefly remembered as a meritorious and able
chemist; but at the time, Stephenson's claim to the invention met with
little courtesy from the great public of London, where a meeting was
held on purpose to denounce his right to the credit of the invention.
What the coal-owners and colliers of the North Country thought about the
matter was sufficiently shown by their subscription of L1000, as a
Stephenson testimonial fund. With part of the money, a silver tankard
was presented to the deserving engine-wright, while the remainder of the
sum was handed over to him in ready cash. A very acceptable present it
was, and one which George Stephenson remembered with pride down to his
dying day. The Geordie lamp continues in use to the present moment in
the Tyneside collieries with excellent effect.

For some years more, Mr. Stephenson (he is now fairly entitled to that
respectable prefix) went on still further experimenting on the question
of locomotives and railways. He was now beginning to learn that much
unnecessary wear and tear arose on the short lines of rail down from the
pit's mouths to the loading-places on the river by the inequalities and
roughnesses of the joints; and he invented a method of overlapping the
rails which quite got over this source of loss--loss of speed, loss of
power, and loss of material at once. It was in 1819 that he laid down
his first considerable piece of road, the Hetton railway. The owners of
a colliery at the village of Hetton, in Durham, determined to replace
their waggon road by a locomotive line; and they invited the now locally
famous Killingworth engine-wright to act as their engineer. Stephenson
gladly undertook the post; and he laid down a railway of eight miles in
length, on the larger part of which the trucks were to be drawn by "the
iron horse," as people now began to style the altered and improved
locomotive. The Hetton railway was opened in 1822, and the assembled
crowd were delighted at beholding a single engine draw seventeen loaded
trucks after it, at the extraordinary rate of four miles an hour--nearly
as fast as a man could walk. Whence it may be gathered that Stephenson's
ideas upon the question of speed were still on a very humble scale

Before the Hetton railway was opened, however, George Stephenson had
shown one more proof of his excellence as a father by sending his boy
Robert, now nineteen, to Edinburgh University. It was a serious expense
for a man who was even now, after all, hardly more than a working man of
the superior grade; but George Stephenson was well repaid for the
sacrifice he thus made on behalf of his only son. He lived to see him
the greatest practical engineer of his own time, and to feel that his
success was in large measure due to the wider and more accurate
scientific training the lad had received from his Edinburgh teachers.

In 1819 George married again, his second wife being the daughter of a
farmer at Black Callerton.

The work which finally secured the position of George Stephenson and of
his dearly loved locomotive was the Stockton and Darlington railway.
Like all the other early railways, it was originally projected simply as
a mineral line. Darlington lies in the centre of a rich inland mining
district; but the impossibility of getting the coal carried to the sea
by cart or donkey long prevented the opening up of its immense natural
wealth. At last, as early as 1817, Edward Pease and a few other
enterprising Darlington Quakers determined to build a line of railway
from the mining region to Stockton, on the river Tees, where the coal
could be loaded into sea-going ships. It was a very long line, compared
to any railway that had yet been constructed; but it was still only to
be worked by horse-power--to be, in fact, what we now call a tramway,
rather than a railway in the modern sense. However, while the plan was
still undecided, George Stephenson, who had heard about the proposed
scheme, went over to Darlington one day, and boldly asked to see Mr.
Pease. The good Quaker received him kindly, and listened to his
arguments in favour of the locomotive. "Come over to Killingworth some
day and see my engine at work," said Stephenson, confidently; "and if
you do you will never think of horses again." Mr. Pease, with Quaker
caution, came and looked. George put the engine through its paces, and
showed off its marvellous capabilities to such good effect that Edward
Pease was immediately converted. Henceforth, he became a decided
advocate of locomotives, and greatly aided by his wealth and influence
in securing their final triumph.

Not only that, but Mr. Pease also aided Stephenson in carrying out a
design which George had long had upon his mind--the establishment of a
regular locomotive factory, where the work of engine-making for this
particular purpose might be carried on with all the necessary finish and
accuracy. George himself put into the concern his precious L1000, not
one penny of which he had yet touched; while Pease and a friend advanced
as much between them. A factory was forthwith started at Newcastle on a
small scale, and the hardworking engine-wright found himself now fully
advanced to the commercial dignity of Stephenson and Co. With the
gradual growth of railways, that humble Newcastle factory grew gradually
into one of the largest and wealthiest manufacturing establishments in
all England.

Meanwhile, Stephenson was eagerly pushing on the survey of the Stockton
and Darlington railway, all the more gladly now that he knew it was to
be worked by means of his own adopted child, the beloved locomotive. He
worked at his line early and late; he took the sights with the spirit-
level with his own eye; he was determined to make it a model railway. It
was a long and heavy work, for railway surveying was then a new art, and
the appliances were all fresh and experimental; but in the end,
Stephenson brought it to a happy conclusion, and struck at once the
death-blow of the old road-travelling system. The line was opened
successfully in 1825, and the engine started off on the inaugural
ceremony with a magnificent train of thirty-eight vehicles. "Such was
its velocity," says a newspaper of the day, "that in some parts the
speed was frequently twelve miles an hour."

The success of the Stockton and Darlington railway was so immense and
unexpected, the number of passengers who went by it was so great, and
the quantity of coal carried for shipment so far beyond anything the
projectors themselves could have anticipated, that a desire soon began
to be felt for similar works in other places. There are no two towns in
England which absolutely need a railway communication from one to the
other so much as Liverpool and Manchester. The first is the great port
of entry for cotton, the second is the great centre of its manufacture.
The Bridgewater canal had helped for a time to make up for the want of
water communication between those two closely connected towns; but as
trade developed, the canal became too small for the demands upon it, and
the need for an additional means of intercourse was deeply felt. A
committee was formed to build a railway in this busy district, and after
a short time George Stephenson was engaged to superintend its

A long and severe fight was fought over the Liverpool and Manchester
railway, and it was at first doubtful whether the scheme would ever be
carried out. Many great landowners were strongly opposed to it, and
tried their best to keep the bill for authorizing it from passing
through Parliament. Stephenson himself was compelled to appear in London
as a witness before a parliamentary committee, and was closely cross-
examined as to the possibilities of his plan. In those days, even after
the success of the Stockton and Darlington line, his views about the
future of railways were still regarded by most sober persons as
ridiculously wild and enthusiastic; while the notion that trains might
be made to travel twice as fast as stage-coaches, was scouted as the
most palpable and ridiculous delusion. One of the members of the
committee pressed Stephenson very hard with questions. "Suppose," he
said, "a cow were to get upon the line, and the engine were to come into
collision with it; wouldn't that be very awkward, now?" George looked up
at him with a merry twinkle of the eye, and answered in his broad North
Country dialect, "Oo, ay, very awkward for the _coo_."

In spite of all Stephenson's earnestness and mother wit, however,
Parliament refused to pass the bill (in 1825), and for the moment the
engineer's vexation was bitter to behold. He and his friends plucked up
heart, however; they were fighting the winning battle against prejudice
and obstruction, and they were sure to conquer in the long run. The line
was resurveyed by other engineers; the lands of the hostile owners were
avoided; the causes of offence were dexterously smoothed down; and after
another hard fight, in 1826, the bill authorizing the construction of
the Liverpool and Manchester railway was finally passed. The board at
once appointed Stephenson engineer for constructing the line, at a
salary of L1000 a year. George might now fairly consider himself
entitled to the honours of an Esquire.

The line was a difficult one to construct; but George Stephenson set
about it with the skill and knowledge acquired during many years of slow
experience; and he performed it with distinguished success. He was now
forty-four; and he had had more to do with the laying down of rails than
any other man then living. The great difficulty of the Liverpool and
Manchester line lay in the fact that it had to traverse a vast shaking
bog or morass, Chat Moss, which the best engineers had emphatically
declared it would be impossible to cross. George Stephenson, however,
had a plan for making the impossible possible. He simply floated his
line on a broad bottom, like a ship, on the top of the quaking quagmire;
and proceeded to lay down his rails on this seemingly fragile support
without further scruple. It answered admirably, and still answers to the
present day. The other works on the railway, especially the cuttings,
were such as might well have appalled the boldest heart in those
experimental ages of railway enterprise. It is easy enough for us now to
undertake tunnelling great hills or filling up wide valleys with long
ranges of viaduct, because the thing has been done so often, and the
prospect of earning a fair return on the money sunk can be calculated
with so high a degree of reasonable probability. But it required no
little faith for George Stephenson and his backers to drive a level
road, for the first time, through solid rocks and over trembling
morasses, the whole way from Liverpool to Manchester. He persevered,
however, and in 1830, after four years' toilsome and ceaseless labour,
during which he had worked far-harder than the sturdiest navvy on the
line, his railway was finally opened for regular traffic.

Before the completion of the railway, George Stephenson had taken part
in a great contest for the best locomotive at Liverpool, a prize of L500
having been offered by the company to the successful competitor.
Stephenson sent in his improved model, the Rocket, constructed after
plans of his own and his son Robert's, and it gained the prize against
all its rivals, travelling at what was then considered the incredible
rate of 35 miles an hour. It was thus satisfactorily settled that the
locomotive was the best power for drawing carriages on railways, and
George Stephenson's long battle was thus at last practically won. The
opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway was an era in the
history of the world. From the moment that great undertaking was
complete, there could no longer be any doubt about the utility and
desirability of railways, and all opposition died away almost at once.
New lines began immediately to be laid out, and in an incredibly short
time the face of England was scarred by the main trunks in that network
of iron roads with which its whole surface is now so closely covered.
The enormous development of the railway system benefited the Stephenson
family in more than one way. Robert Stephenson became the engineer of
the vast series of lines now known as the London and North Western; and
the increased demand for locomotives caused George Stephenson's small
factory at Newcastle to blossom out suddenly into an immense and
flourishing manufacturing concern.

The rest of George Stephenson's life is one long story of unbroken
success. In 1831, the year after the opening of the Liverpool and
Manchester line, George, being now fifty, began to think of settling
down in a more permanent home. His son Robert, who was surveying the
Leicester and Swannington railway, observed on an estate called
Snibston, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, what to his experienced geological eye
looked like the probable indications of coal beneath the surface. He
wrote to his father about it, and as the estate was at the time for
sale, George, now a comparatively wealthy man, bought it up on his son's
recommendation. He also pitched his home close by at Alton Grange, and
began to sink shafts in search of coal. He found it in due time; and
thus, in addition to his Newcastle works he became a flourishing
colliery proprietor. It is pleasing to note that Stephenson, unlike too
many other self-made men, always treated his workmen with the greatest
kindness and consideration, erecting admirable cottages for their
accommodation, and providing them with church, chapel, and schools for
their religious and social education.

While living at Alton Grange, Stephenson was engaged in laying out
several new lines in the middle and north of England, especially the
Grand Junction and the Midland, both of which he constructed with great
boldness and practical skill. As he grew older and more famous, he began
to mix in the truly best society of England; his acquaintance being
sought by all the most eminent men in literature, science, and political
life. Though but an uneducated working man by origin, George Stephenson
had so improved his mind by constant thought and expansive self-
education, that he was able to meet these able and distinguished friends
of his later days on terms of perfect intellectual and social equality.
To the last, however, he never forgot his older and poorer friends, nor
was he ever ashamed of their acquaintance. A pleasant trait is narrated
by his genial biographer, Dr. Smiles, who notices that on one occasion
he stopped to speak to one of his wealthy acquaintances in a fine
carriage, and then turned to shake hands with the coachman on the box,
whom he had known and respected in his earlier days. He enjoyed, too,
the rare pleasure of feeling his greatness recognized in his own time:
and once, when he went over to Brussels on a visit to the king of the
Belgians, he was pleased and surprised, as the royal party entered the
ball-room at the Town Hall, to hear a general murmur among the guests of
"Which is Stephenson?"

George Stephenson continued to live for sixteen years, first at Alton
Grange, and afterwards at Tapton House, near Chesterfield, in comfort
and opulence; growing big pines and melons, keeping birds and dogs, and
indulging himself towards the end in the well-earned repose to which his
useful and laborious life fully entitled him. At last, on the 12th of
August, 1848, he died suddenly of intermittent fever, in his sixty-
seventh year, and was peacefully buried in Chesterfield church. Probably
no one man who ever lived did so much to change and renovate the whole
aspect of human life as George Stephenson; and, unlike many other
authors of great revolutions, he lived long enough to see the full
result of his splendid labours in the girdling of England by his iron
roads. A grand and simple man, he worked honestly and steadfastly
throughout his days, and he found his reward in the unprecedented
benefits which his locomotive was even then conferring upon his fellow-
men. It is indeed wonderful to think how very different is the England
in which we live to-day, from that in which we might possibly have been
living were it not for the barefooted little collier boy who made clay
models of engines at Wylam, and who grew at last into the great and
famous engineer of the marvellous Liverpool and Manchester railway. The
main characteristic of George Stephenson was perseverance; and it was
that perseverance that enabled him at last to carry out his magnificent
schemes in the face of so much bitter and violent opposition.



In most cases, the working man who raises himself to wealth and
position, does so by means of trade, which is usually the natural
outgrowth of his own special handicraft or calling. If he attains, not
only to riches, but to distinction as well, it is in general by
mechanical talent, the direction of the mind being naturally biased by
the course of one's own ordinary occupations. England has been
exceptionally rich in great engineers and inventive geniuses of such
humble origin--working men who have introduced great improvements in
manufactures or communications; and our modern English civilization has
been immensely influenced by the lives of these able and successful
mechanical toilers. From Brindley, the constructor of the earliest great
canal, to Joseph Gillott, the inventor of the very steel pen with which
this book is written; from Arkwright the barber who fashioned the first
spinning-machine, to Crompton the weaver, whose mule gave rise to the
mighty Manchester cotton trade; from Newcomen, who made the first rough
attempt at a steam-engine, to Stephenson, who sent the iron horse from
end to end of the land,--the chief mechanical improvements in the
country have almost all been due to the energy, intelligence, and skill
of our labouring population. The English mind is intensely practical,
and the English working man, for the last two centuries at least, has
been mainly distinguished for his great mechanical aptitude, bursting
out, here and there, in exceptional persons, under the form of
exceedingly high inventive genius.

At our very doors, however, there is a small nation of largely different
blood and of wholly different speech from our own; a nation forming a
part of our own kingdom, even more closely than the Scotch or the Irish,
and yet in some respects further from us in mind and habit of life than
either; a nation marked rather by the poetical and artistic, than by the
mechanical and practical temperament--the ancient and noble Welsh
people. It would hardly be reasonable to expect from the Welsh exactly
the same kind of success in life which we often find in English workmen;
the aims and ideals of the two races are so distinct, and it must be
frankly confessed the advantage is not always on the side of the
Englishman. The Welsh peasants, living among their own romantic hills
and valleys, speaking their own soft and exquisite language, treasuring
their own plaintive and melodious poetry, have grown up with an intense
love for beauty and the beautiful closely intwined into the very warp
and woof of their inmost natures. They have almost always a natural
refinement of manner and delicacy of speech which is unfortunately too
often wanting amongst our rougher English labouring classes, especially
in large towns. They are intensely musical, producing a very large
proportion of the best English singers and composers. They are fond of
literature, for which they have generally some natural capacity, and in
which they exercise themselves to an extent unknown, probably, among
people of their class in any other country. At the local meetings of
bards (as they call themselves) in Wales, it is not at all uncommon to
hear that the first prize for Welsh poetry has been carried off by a
shepherd, and the first prize for Welsh prose composition by a domestic
servant. In short, the susceptibilities of the race run rather toward
art and imagination, than toward mere money-making and practical

John Gibson, sculptor, of Rome, as he loved to call himself, was a
remarkable embodiment, in many ways, of this self-respecting, artistic,
ideal Welsh peasant temperament. In a little village near Conway, in
North Wales, there lived at the end of the last century a petty
labouring market gardener of the name of Gibson, who knew and spoke no
other tongue than his native Welsh. In 1790, his wife gave birth to a
son whom they christened John, and who grew up, a workman's child, under
the shadow of the great castle, and among the exquisite scenery of the
placid land-locked Conway river. John Gibson's parents, like the mass of
labouring Welsh people, were honest, God-fearing folk, with a great
earnestness of principle, a profound love of truth, and a hatred of all
mean or dirty actions. They brought up the boy in these respects in the
way he should go; and when he was old he indeed did not depart from
them. Throughout his life, John Gibson was remarkable for his calm,
earnest, straightforward simplicity, a simplicity which seemed almost
childish to those who could not understand so grand and uncommon and
noble a nature as his.

From his babyhood, almost, the love of art was innate in the boy; and
when he was only seven years old, he began to draw upon a slate a scene
that particularly pleased him--a line of geese sailing upon the smooth
glassy surface of a neighbouring pond. He drew them as an ordinary child
almost always does draw--one goose after another, in profile, as though
they were in procession, without any attempt at grouping or perspective
in any way. His mother praised the first attempt, saying to him in
Welsh, "Indeed, Jack, this is very like the geese;" and Jack, encouraged
by her praise, decided immediately to try again. But not being an
ordinary child, he determined this time to do better; he drew the geese
one behind the other as one generally sees them in actual nature. His
mother then asked him to draw a horse; and "after gazing long and often
upon one," he says, "I at last ventured to commit him to the slate."
When he had done so, the good mother was even more delighted. So, to try
his childish art, she asked him to put a rider on the horse's back. Jack
went out once more, "carefully watched men on horseback," and then
returning, made his sketch accordingly. In this childish reminiscence
one can see already the first workings of that spirit which made Gibson
afterwards into the greatest sculptor of all Europe. He didn't try even
then to draw horse or man by mere guess-work; he went out and studied
the subject at first hand. There are in that single trait two great
elements of success in no matter what line of life--supreme carefulness,
and perfect honesty of workmanship.

When Jack was nine years old, his father determined to emigrate to
America, and for that purpose went to Liverpool to embark for the United
States. But when he had got as far as the docks, Mrs. Gibson, good soul,
frightened at the bigness of the ships (a queer cause of alarm), refused
plumply ever to put her foot on one of them. So her husband, a dutiful
man with a full sense of his wife's government upon him, consented
unwillingly to stop in Liverpool, where he settled down to work again as
a gardener. Hitherto, Jack and his brothers had spoken nothing but
Welsh; but at Liverpool he was put to school, and soon learned to
express himself correctly and easily in English. Liverpool was a very
different place for young Jack Gibson from Conway: there were no hills
and valleys there, to be sure, but there were shops--such shops! all
full of the most beautiful and highly coloured prints and caricatures,
after the fashion of the days when George IV. was still Prince Regent.
All his spare time he now gave up to diligently copying the drawings
which he saw spread out in tempting array before him in the shop-
windows. Flattening his little nose against the glass panes, he used to
look long and patiently at a single figure, till he had got every detail
of its execution fixed firmly on his mind's eye; and then he would go
home hastily and sketch it out at once while the picture was still quite
fresh in his vivid memory. Afterwards he would return to the shop-
window, and correct his copy by the original till it was completely
finished. No doubt the boy did all this purely for his own amusement;
but at the same time he was quite unconsciously teaching himself to draw
under a very careful and accurate master--himself. Already, however, he
found his paintings had patrons, for he sold them when finished to the
other boys; and once he got as much as sixpence for a coloured picture
of Napoleon crossing the Alps--"the largest sum," he says brightly in
his memoirs long after, "I had yet received for a work of art."

Opportunities always arise for those who know how to use them. Little
Jack Gibson used to buy his paper and colours at a stationer's in
Liverpool, who one day said to him kindly, "My lad, you're a constant
customer here: I suppose you're a painter." "Yes, sir," Jack answered,
with childish self-complacency, "I do paint." The stationer, who had
himself studied at the Royal Academy, asked him to bring his pictures on
view; and when Jack did so, his new friend, Mr. Tourmeau, was so much
pleased with them that he lent the boy drawings to copy, and showed him
how to draw for himself from plaster casts. These first amateur lessons
must have given the direction to all Gibson's later life: for when the
time came for him to choose a trade, he was not set to till the ground
like his father, but was employed at once on comparatively artistic and
intelligent handicraft.

Jack was fourteen when his father apprenticed him to a firm of cabinet-
makers. For the first year, he worked away contentedly at legs and
mouldings; but as soon as he had learnt the rudiments of the trade he
persuaded his masters to change his indentures, and let him take the
more suitable employment of carving woodwork for ornamental furniture.
He must have been a good workman and a promising boy, one may be sure,
or his masters would never have countenanced such a revolutionary
proceeding on the part of a raw apprentice. Young Gibson was delighted
with his new occupation, and pursued it so eagerly that he carved even
during his leisure hours from plaster casts. But after another year, as
ill-luck or good fortune would have it, he happened to come across a
London marble-cutter, who had come down to Liverpool to carve flowers in
marble for a local firm. The boy was enchanted with his freer and more
artistic work; when the marble-cutter took him over a big yard, and
showed him the process of modelling and cutting, he began to feel a deep
contempt for his own stiff and lifeless occupation of wood-carving.
Inspired with the desire to learn this higher craft, he bought some
clay, took it home, and moulded it for himself after all the casts he
could lay his hands on. Mr. Francis, the proprietor of the marble works,
had a German workman in his employ of the name of Luge, who used to
model small figures, chiefly, no doubt, for monumental purposes. Young
Gibson borrowed a head of Bacchus that Luge had composed, and made a
copy of it himself in clay. Mr. Francis was well pleased with this early
attempt, and also with a clever head of Mercury in marble, which Gibson
carved in his spare moments.

The more the lad saw of clay and marble, the greater grew his distaste
for mere woodwork. At last, he determined to ask Mr. Francis to buy out
his indentures from the cabinet-makers, and let him finish his
apprenticeship as a sculptor. But unfortunately the cabinet-makers found
Gibson too useful a person to be got rid of so easily: they said he was
the most industrious lad they had ever had; and so his very virtues
seemed as it were to turn against him. Not so, really: Mr. Francis
thought so well of the boy that he offered the masters L70 to be quit of
their bargain; and in the end, Gibson himself having made a very firm
stand in the matter, he was released from his indentures and handed over
finally to Mr. Francis and a sculptor's life.

And now the eager boy was at last "truly happy." He had to model all day
long, and he worked away at it with a will. Shortly after he went to Mr.
Francis's yard, a visitor came upon business, a magnificent-looking old
man, with snowy hair and Roman features. It was William Roscoe, the
great Liverpool banker, himself a poor boy who had risen, and who had
found time not only to build up for himself an enormous fortune, but
also to become thoroughly well acquainted with literature and art by the
way. Mr. Roscoe had written biographies of Lorenzo de Medici, the great
Florentine, and of Leo X., the art-loving pope; and throughout his whole
life he was always deeply interested in painting and sculpture and
everything that related to them. He was a philanthropist, too, who had
borne his part bravely in the great struggle for the abolition of the
slave trade; and to befriend a struggling lad of genius like John Gibson
was the very thing that was nearest and dearest to his benevolent heart.
Mr. Francis showed Roscoe the boy's drawings and models; and Roscoe's
appreciative eye saw in them at once the visible promise of great things
to be. He had come to order a chimney-piece for his library at Allerton,
where his important historical works were all composed; and he
determined that the clever boy should have a chief hand in its
production. A few days later he returned again with a valuable old
Italian print. "I want you to make a bas-relief in baked clay," he said
to Gibson, "from this print for the centre of my mantelpiece." Gibson
was overjoyed. The print was taken from a fresco of Raphael's in the
Vatican at Rome, and Gibson's work was to reproduce it in clay in low
relief, as a sculpture picture. He did so entirely to his new patron's
satisfaction, and this his first serious work is now duly preserved in
the Liverpool Institution which Mr. Roscoe had been mainly instrumental
in founding.

Roscoe had a splendid collection of prints and drawings at Allerton; and
he invited the clever Welsh lad over there frequently, and allowed him
to study them all to his heart's content. To a lad like John Gibson,
such an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the works of Raphael and
Michael Angelo was a great and pure delight. Before he was nineteen, he
began to think of a big picture which he hoped to paint some day; and he
carried it out as well as he was able in his own self-taught fashion.
For as yet, it must be remembered, Gibson had had no regular artistic
instruction: there was none such, indeed, to be had at all in Liverpool
in his day; and there was no real art going on in the town in any way.
Mr. Francis, his master, was no artist; nor was there anybody at the
works who could teach him: for as soon as Mr. Francis found out the full
measure of Gibson's abilities, he dismissed his German artist Luge, and
put the clever boy entirely in his place. At this time, Gibson was only
receiving six shillings a week as wages; but Mr. Francis got good prices
for many of his works, and was not ashamed even to put his own name upon
the promising lad's artistic performances.

Mr. Roscoe did not merely encourage the young sculptor; he set him also
on the right road for ultimate success. He urged Gibson to study
anatomy, without which no sculpture worthy of the name is possible.
Gibson gladly complied, for he knew that Michael Angelo had been a great
anatomist, and Michael was just at that moment the budding sculptor's
idol and ideal. But how could he learn? A certain Dr. Vose was then
giving lectures on anatomy to young surgeons at Liverpool, and on
Roscoe's recommendation he kindly admitted the eager student gratis to
his dissecting-room. Gibson dissected there with a will in all his spare
moments, and as he put his mind into the work he soon became well versed
in the construction of the human body.

From the day that Gibson arrived at man's estate, the great dream of his
life was to go to Rome. For Rome is to art what London is to industry--
the metropolis in its own way of the entire earth. But travelling in
1810 cost a vast deal of money; and the poor Liverpool marble-cutter
(for as yet he was really nothing more) could hardly hope to earn the
immense sum that such an expedition would necessarily cost him. So for
six years more he went on working at Liverpool in his own native
untaught fashion, doing his best to perfect himself, but feeling sadly
the lack of training and competition. One of the last works he executed
while still in Mr. Francis's service was a chimney-piece for Sir John
Gladstone, father of the future premier. Sir John was so pleased with
the execution, that he gave the young workman ten pounds as a present.
But in spite of occasional encouragement like this, Gibson felt himself
at Liverpool, as he says, "chained down by the leg, and panting for

In 1817, when he was just twenty-seven, he determined to set off to
London. He took with him good introductions from Mr. Roscoe to Mr.
Brougham (afterwards Lord Chancellor), to Christie, the big picture-
dealer, and to several other influential people. Later on, Roscoe
recommended him to still more important leaders in the world of art--
Flaxman the great sculptor, Benjamin West, the Quaker painter and
President of the Royal Academy, and others of like magnitude. Mr. Watson
Taylor, a wealthy art patron, gave Gibson employment, and was anxious
that he should stop in London. But Gibson wanted more than employment;
he wanted to _learn_, to perfect himself, to become great in his
art. He could do that nowhere but at Rome, and to Rome therefore he was
determined to go. Mr. Taylor still begged him to wait a little. "Go to
Rome I will," Gibson answered boldly, "even if I have to go there on

He was not quite reduced to this heroic measure, however, for his
Liverpool friends made up a purse of L150 for him (we may be sure it was
repaid later on); and with that comparatively large sum in his pocket
the young stone-cutter started off gaily on his continental tour, from
which he was not to return for twenty-seven years. He drove from Paris
to Rome, sharing a carriage with a Scotch gentleman; and when he arrived
in the Pope's city (as it then was) he knew absolutely not a single word
of Italian, or of any other language on earth save Welsh and English. In
those days, Canova, the great Venetian sculptor, was the head of
artistic society in Rome; and as _all_ society in Rome is more or
less artistic, he might almost be said to have led the whole life of the
great and lively city. Indeed, the position of such a man in Italy
resembles far more that of a duke in England than of an artist as we
here are accustomed to think of him. Gibson had letters of introduction
to this prince of sculptors from his London friends; and when he went to
present them, he found Canova in his studio, surrounded by his numerous
scholars and admirers. The Liverpool stone-cutter had brought a few of
his drawings with him, and Canova examined them with great attention.
Instinctively he recognized the touch of genius. When he had looked at
them keenly for a few minutes, he turned kindly to the trembling young
man, and said at once, "Come to me alone next week, for I want to have a
talk with you."

On the appointed day, Gibson, quivering with excitement, presented
himself once more at the great master's studio. Canova was surrounded as
before by artists and visitors; but in a short time he took Gibson into
a room by himself, and began to speak with him in his very broken
English. Many artists came to Rome, he said, with very small means, and
that perhaps might be Gibson's case. "Let me have the gratification,
then," he went on, "of assisting you to prosecute your studies. I am
rich. I am anxious to be of use to you. Let me forward you in your art
as long as you stay in Rome."

Gibson replied, with many stammerings, that he hoped his slender means
would suffice for his personal needs, but that if Canova would only
condescend to give him instruction, to make him his pupil, to let him
model in his studio, he would be eternally grateful. Canova was one of
the most noble and lovable of men. He acceded at once to Gibson's
request, and Gibson never forgot his kind and fatherly assistance. "Dear
generous master," the Welsh sculptor wrote many years after, when Canova
had long passed away, "I see you before me now. I hear your soft
Venetian dialect, and your kindly words inspiring my efforts and gently
correcting my defects. My heart still swells with grateful recollection
of you."

Canova told his new pupil to devote a few days first to seeing the
sights of Rome; but Gibson was impatient to begin at once. "I shall be
at your studio to-morrow morning," the ardent Welshman said; and he kept
his word. Canova, pleased with so much earnestness and promptitude, set
him to work forthwith upon a clay model from his own statue of the
Pugilist. Gibson went to the task with a will, moulding the clay as best
he could into shape; but he still knew so little of the technical ways
of regular sculptors that he tried to model this work from the clay
alone, though its pose was such that it could not possibly hold together
without an iron framework. Canova saw his error and smiled, but let him
go on so that he might learn his business by experience. In a day or two
the whole thing, of course, collapsed by its own weight; and then Canova
called in a blacksmith and showed the eager beginner how the mechanical
skeleton was formed with iron bars, and interlacing crosses of wood and
wire. This was quite a new idea to Gibson, who had modelled hitherto
only in his own self-taught fashion with moist clay, letting it support
its own weight as best it might. Another pupil then fleshed out the iron
skeleton with clay, and roughly shaped it to the required figure, so
that it stood as firm as a rock for Gibson to work upon. The new hand
turned to vigorously once more; and, in spite of his seeming rawness,
finished the copy so well that Canova admitted him at once to the
Academy to model from life. At this Academy Canova himself, who loved
art far more than money, used to attend twice a week to give instruction
to students without receiving any remuneration whatsoever. It is of such
noble men as this that the world of art is largely made up--that world
which we too-practical English have always undervalued or even despised.

Gibson's student period at Rome under Canova was a very happy episode in
a uniformly happy and beautiful life. His only trouble was that he had
not been able to come there earlier. Singularly free from every taint of
envy (like all the great sculptors of his time), he could not help
regretting when he saw other men turning out work of such great
excellence while he was still only a learner. "When I observed the power
and experience of youths much younger than myself," he says in his
generous appreciative fashion, "their masterly manner of sketching in
the figure, and their excellent imitation of nature, my spirits fell
many degrees, and I felt humbled and unhappy." He need not have done so,
for the man who thus distrusts his own work is always the truest
workman; it is only fools or poor creatures who are pleased and self-
satisfied with their own first bungling efforts. But the great enjoyment
of Rome to Gibson consisted in the free artistic society which he found
there. At Liverpool, he had felt almost isolated; there was hardly
anybody with whom he could talk on an equality about his artistic
interests; nobody but himself cared about the things that pleased and
engrossed his earnest soul the most. But at Rome, there was a great
society of artists; every man's studio was open to his friends and
fellow-workers; and a lively running fire of criticism went on
everywhere about all new works completed or in progress. He was
fortunate, too, in the exact moment of his residence: Rome then
contained at once, besides himself, the two truest sculptors of the
present century, Canova the Venetian, and Thorwaldsen the Dane. Both
these great masters were singularly free from jealousy, rivalry, or
vanity. In their perfect disinterestedness and simplicity of character
they closely resembled Gibson himself. The ardent and pure-minded young
Welshman, who kept himself so unspotted from the world in his utter
devotion to his chosen art, could not fail to derive an elevated
happiness from his daily intercourse with these two noble and
sympathetic souls.

After Gibson had been for some time in Canova's studio, his illustrious
master told him that the sooner he took to modelling a life-size figure
of his own invention, the better. So Gibson hired a studio (with what
means he does not tell us in his short sketch of his own life) close to
Canova's, so that the great Venetian was able to drop in from time to
time and assist him with his criticism and judgment. How delightful is
the friendly communion of work implied in all this graceful artistic
Roman life! How different from the keen competition and jealous rivalry
which too often distinguishes our busy money-getting English existence!
In 1819, two years after Gibson's arrival at Rome, he began to model his
Mars and Cupid, a more than life-size group, on which he worked
patiently and lovingly for many months. When it was nearly finished, one
day a knock came at the studio door. After the knock, a handsome young
man entered, and announced himself brusquely as the Duke of Devonshire.
"Canova sent me," he said, "to see what you were doing." Gibson wasn't
much accustomed to dukes in those days--he grew more familiar with them
later on--and we may be sure the poor young artist's heart beat a little
more fiercely than usual when the stranger asked him the price of his
Mars and Cupid in marble. The sculptor had never yet sold a statue, and
didn't know how much he ought to ask; but after a few minutes'
consideration he said, "Five hundred pounds. But, perhaps," he added
timidly, "I have said too much." "Oh no," the duke answered, "not at all
too much;" and he forthwith ordered (or, as sculptors prefer to say,
commissioned) the statue to be executed for him in marble. Gibson was
delighted, and ran over at once to tell Canova, thinking he had done a
splendid stroke of business. Canova shared his pleasure, till the young
man came to the price; then the older sculptor's face fell ominously.
"Five hundred pounds!" he cried in dismay; "why, it won't cover the cost
of marble and workmanship." And so indeed it turned out; for when the
work was finished, it had stood Gibson in L520 for marble and expenses,
and left him twenty pounds out of pocket in the end. So he got less than
nothing after all for his many months of thought and labour over clay
and marble alike.

Discouraging as this beginning must have proved, it was nevertheless in
reality the first important step in a splendid and successful career. It
is something to have sold your first statue, even if you sell it at a
disadvantage. In 1821 Gibson modelled a group of Pysche and the Zephyrs.
That winter Sir George Beaumont, himself a distinguished amateur artist,
and a great patron of art, came to Rome; and Canova sent him to see the
young Welshman's new composition. Sir George asked the price, and
Gibson, this time more cautious, asked for time to prepare an estimate,
and finally named L700. To his joy, Sir George immediately ordered it,
and also introduced many wealthy connoisseurs to the rising sculptor's
studio. That same winter, also, the Duke of Devonshire came again, and
commissioned a bas-relief in marble (which is now at Chatsworth House,
with many other of Gibson's works), at a paying price, too, which was a
great point for the young man's scanty exchequer.

Unfortunately, Gibson has not left us any notice of how he managed to
make both ends meet during this long adult student period at Rome.
Information on that point would indeed be very interesting; but so
absorbed was the eager Welshman always in his art, that he seldom tells
us anything at all about such mere practical every-day matters as bread
and butter. To say the truth, he cared but little about them. Probably
he had lived in a very simple penurious style during his whole
studenthood, taking his meals at a _caffe_ or eating-house, and
centering all his affection and ideas upon his beloved studio. But now
wealth and fame began to crowd in upon him, almost without the seeking.
Visitors to Rome began to frequent the Welshman's rooms, and the death
of "the great and good Canova," which occurred in 1822, while depriving
Gibson of a dearly loved friend, left him, as it were, that great
master's successor. Towards him and Thorwaldsen, indeed, Gibson always
cherished a most filial regard. "May I not be proud," he writes long
after, "to have known such men, to have conversed with them, watched all
their proceedings, heard all their great sentiments on art? Is it not a
pleasure to be so deeply in their debt for instruction?" And now the
flood of visitors who used to flock to Canova's studio began to transfer
their interest to Gibson's. Commission after commission was offered him,
and he began to make money faster than he could use it. His life had
always been simple and frugal--the life of a working man with high aims
and grand ideals: he hardly knew now how to alter it. People who did not
understand Gibson used to say in his later days that he loved money,
because he made much and spent little. Those who knew him better say
rather that he worked much for the love of art, and couldn't find much
to do with his money when he had earned it. He was singularly
indifferent to gain; he cared not what he eat or drank; he spent little
on clothes, and nothing on entertainments; but he paid his workmen
liberally or even lavishly; he allowed one of his brothers more than he
ever spent upon himself, and he treated the other with uniform kindness
and generosity. The fact is, Gibson didn't understand money, and when it
poured in upon him in large sums, he simply left it in the hands of
friends, who paid him a very small percentage on it, and whom he always
regarded as being very kind to take care of the troublesome stuff on his
account. In matters of art, Gibson was a great master; in matters of
business, he was hardly more than a simple-minded child.

Sometimes queer incidents occurred at Gibson's studio from the curious
ignorance of our countrymen generally on the subject of art. One day, a
distinguished and wealthy Welsh gentleman called on the sculptor, and
said that, as a fellow Welshman, he was anxious to give him a
commission. As he spoke, he cast an admiring eye on Gibson's group of
Psyche borne by the Winds. Gibson was pleased with his admiration, but
rather taken aback when the old gentleman said blandly, "If you were to
take away the Psyche and put a dial in the place, it'd make a capital
design for a clock." Much later, the first Duke of Wellington called
upon him at Rome and ordered a statue of Pandora, in an attitude which
he described. Gibson at once saw that the Duke's idea was a bad one, and
told him so. By-and-by, on a visit to England, Gibson waited on the
duke, and submitted photographs of the work he had modelled. "But, Mr.
Gibson," said the old soldier, looking at them curiously, "you haven't
followed my idea." "No," answered the sculptor, "I have followed _my
own_." "You are very stubborn," said Wellington. "Duke," answered the
sturdy sculptor, "I am a Welshman, and all the world knows that we are a
stubborn race." The Iron Duke ought to have been delighted to find
another man as unbending as himself, but he wasn't; and in the end he
refused the figure, which Gibson sold instead to Lady Marian Alford.

For twenty-seven years Gibson remained at Rome, working assiduously at
his art, and rising gradually but surely to the very first place among
then living sculptors. His studio now became the great centre of all
fashionable visitors to Rome. Still, he made no effort to get rich,
though he got rich without wishing it; he worked on merely for art's
sake, not for money. He would not do as many sculptors do, keep several
copies in marble of his more popular statues for sale; he preferred to
devote all his time to new works. "Gibson was always absorbed in one
subject," says Lady Eastlake, "and that was the particular work or part
of a work--were it but the turn of a corner of drapery--which was then
under his modelling hands. Time was nothing to him; he was long and
fastidious." His favourite pupil, Miss Hosmer, once expressed regret to
him that she had been so long about a piece of work on which she was
engaged. "Always try to do the best you can," Gibson answered. "Never
mind how long you are upon a work--no. No one will ask how long you have
been, except fools. You don't care what fools think."

During his long life at Rome, he was much cheered by the presence and
assistance of his younger brother, Mr. Ben, as he always called him, who
was also a sculptor, though of far less merit than John Gibson himself.
Mr. Ben came to Rome younger than John, and he learned to be a great
classical scholar, and to read those Greek and Latin books which John
only knew at second hand, but from whose beautiful fanciful stories of
gods and heroes he derived all the subjects for his works of statuary.
His other brother, Solomon, a strange, wild, odd man, in whom the family
genius had degenerated into mere eccentricity, never did anything for
his own livelihood, but lived always upon John Gibson's generous bounty.
In John's wealthy days, he and Mr. Ben used to escape every summer from
the heat and dust of Rome--which is unendurable in July and August--to
the delightfully cool air and magnificent mountain scenery of the Tyrol.
"I cannot tell you how well I am," he writes on one of these charming
visits, "and so is Mr. Ben. Every morning we take our walks in the woods
here. I feel as if I were new modelled." Another passage in one of these
summer tourist letters well deserves to be copied here, as it shows the
artist's point of view of labours like Telford's and Stephenson's. "From
Bormio," he says, "the famous road begins which passes over the Stelvio
into the Tyrol; the highest carriage-road in the world. We began the
ascent early in the morning. It is magnificent and wonderful. Man shows
his talents, his power over great difficulties, in the construction of
these roads. Behold the cunning little workman--he comes, he explores,
and he says, 'Yes, I will send a carriage and horses over these mighty
mountains;' and, by Jove, you are drawn up among the eternal snows. I am
a great admirer of these roads."

In 1844 Gibson paid his first visit to England, a very different England
indeed to the one he had left twenty-seven years earlier. His Liverpool
friends, now thoroughly proud of their stone-cutter, insisted upon
giving him a public banquet. Glasgow followed the same example; and the
simple-minded sculptor, unaccustomed to such honours, hardly knew how to
bear his blushes decorously upon him. During this visit, he received a
command to execute a statue of the queen. Gibson was at first quite
disconcerted at such an awful summons. "I don't know how to behave to
queens," he said. "Treat her like a lady," said a friend; and Gibson,
following the advice, found it sufficiently answered all the necessities
of the situation. But when he went to arrange with the Prince Consort
about the statue, he was rather puzzled what he should do about
measuring the face, which he always did for portrait sculpture with a
pair of compasses. All these difficulties were at last smoothed over;
and Gibson was also permitted to drape the queen's statue in Greek
costume, for in his artistic conscientiousness he absolutely refused to
degrade sculpture by representing women in the fashionable gown of the
day, or men in swallow-tail coats and high collars.

Another work which Gibson designed during this visit possesses for us a
singular and exceptional interest. It was a statue of George Stephenson,
to be erected at Liverpool. Thus, by a curious coincidence, the
Liverpool stone-cutter was set to immortalize the features and figure of
the Killingworth engine-man. Did those two great men, as they sat
together in one room, sculptor and sitter, know one another's early
history and strange struggles, we wonder? Perhaps not; but if they did,
it must surely have made a bond of union between them. At any rate,
Gibson greatly admired Stephenson, just as he had admired the Stelvio
road. "I will endeavour to give him a look capable of action and
energy," he said; "but he must be contemplative, grave, simple. He is a
good subject. I wish to make him look like an Archimedes."

If Gibson admired Stephenson, however, he did not wholly admire
Stephenson's railways. The England he had left was the England of mail-
coaches. In Italy, he had learnt to travel by carriage, after the
fashion of the country; but these new whizzing locomotives, with their
time-tables, and their precision, and their inscrutable mysteries of
shunts and junctions, were quite too much for his simple, childish, old-
world habits. He had a knack of getting out too soon or too late, which
often led him into great confusion. Once, when he wanted to go to
Chichester, he found himself landed at Portsmouth, and only discovered
his mistake when, on asking the way to the cathedral, he was told there
was no cathedral in the town at all. Another story of how he tried to
reach Wentworth, Lord Fitzwilliam's place, is best told in his own
words. "The train soon stopped at a small station, and, seeing some
people get out, I also descended; when, in a moment, the train moved on
--faster and faster--and left me standing on the platform. I walked a few
paces backward and forward in disagreeable meditation. 'I wish to
Heaven,' thought I to myself, 'that I was on my way back to Rome with a
postboy.' Then I observed a policeman darting his eyes upon me, as if he
would look me through. Said I to the fellow, 'Where is that cursed train
gone to? It's off with my luggage and here am I.' The man asked me the
name of the place where I took my ticket. 'I don't remember,' said I.
'How should I know the name of any of these places?--it's as long as my
arm. I've got it written down somewhere.' 'Pray, sir,' said the man,
after a little pause, 'are you a foreigner?' 'No,' I replied, 'I am not
a foreigner; I'm a sculptor.'"

The consequence of this almost childish carelessness was that Gibson had
always to be accompanied on his long journeys either by a friend or a
courier. While Mr. Ben lived, he usually took his brother in charge to
some extent; and the relation between them was mutual, for while John
Gibson found the sculpture, Mr. Ben found the learning, so that Gibson
used often to call him "my classical dictionary." In 1847, however, Mr.
Ben was taken ill. He got a bad cold, and would have no doctor, take no
medicine. "I consider Mr. Ben," his brother writes, "as one of the most
amiable of human beings--too good for this world--but he will take no
care against colds, and when ill he is a stubborn animal." That summer
Gibson went again to England, and when he came back found Mr. Ben no
better. For four years the younger brother lingered on, and in 1851 died
suddenly from the effects of a fall in walking. Gibson was thus left
quite alone, but for his pupil Miss Hosmer, who became to him more than
a daughter.

During his later years Gibson took largely to tinting his statues--
colouring them faintly with flesh-tones and other hues like nature; and
this practice he advocated with all the strength of his single-minded
nature. All visitors to the great Exhibition of 1862 will remember his
beautiful tinted Venus, which occupied the place of honour in a light
temple erected for the purpose by another distinguished artistic
Welshman, Mr. Owen Jones, who did much towards raising the standard of
taste in the English people.

In January, 1866, John Gibson had a stroke of paralysis, from which he
never recovered. He died within the month, and was buried in the English
cemetery at Rome. Both his brothers had died before him; and he left the
whole of his considerable fortune to the Royal Academy in England. An
immense number of his works are in the possession of the Academy, and
are on view there throughout the year.

John Gibson's life is very different in many respects from that of most
other great working men whose story is told in this volume. Undoubtedly,
he was deficient in several of those rugged and stern qualities to which
English working men have oftenest owed their final success. But there
was in him a simple grandeur of character, a purity of soul, and an
earnestness of aim which raised him at once far above the heads of most
among those who would have been the readiest to laugh at and ridicule
him. Besides his exquisite taste, his severe love of beauty, and his
marvellous power of expressing the highest ideals of pure form, he had
one thing which linked him to all the other great men whose lives we
have here recounted--his steadfast and unconquerable personal energy. In
one sense it may be said that he was not a practical man; and yet in
another and higher sense, what could possibly be more practical than
this accomplished resolve of the poor Liverpool stone-cutter to overcome
all obstacles, to go to Rome, and to make himself into a great sculptor?
It is indeed a pity that in writing for Englishmen of the present day
such a life should even seem for a moment to stand in need of a
practical apology. For purity, for guilelessness, for exquisite
appreciation of the true purpose of sculpture as the highest embodiment
of beauty of form, John Gibson's art stands unsurpassed in all the
annals of modern statuary.



Old Isaac Herschel, the oboe-player of the King's Guard in Hanover, had
served with his regiment for many years in the chilly climate of North
Germany, and was left at last broken down in health and spirits by the
many hardships of several severe European campaigns. Isaac Herschel was
a man of tastes and education above his position; but he had married a
person in some respects quite unfitted for him. His good wife, Anna,
though an excellent housekeeper and an estimable woman in her way, had
never even learned to write; and when the pair finally settled down to
old age in Hanover, they were hampered by the cares of a large family of
ten children. Respectable poverty in Germany is even more pressing than
in England; the decent poor are accustomed to more frugal fare and
greater privations than with us; and the domestic life of the Herschel
family circle must needs have been of the most careful and penurious
description. Still, Isaac Herschel dearly loved his art, and in it he
found many amends and consolations for the sordid shifts and troubles of
a straitened German household. All his spare time was given to music,
and in his later days he was enabled to find sufficient pupils to eke
out his little income with comparative comfort.

William Herschel, the great astronomer (born in 1738), was the fourth
child of his mother, and with his brothers he was brought up at the
garrison school in Hanover, together with the sons of the other common
soldiers. There he learned, not only the three R's, but also a little
French and English. Still, the boy was not content with these ordinary
studies; in his own playtime he took lessons in Latin and mathematics
privately with the regimental schoolmaster. The young Herschels, indeed,
were exceptionally fortunate in the possession of an excellent and
intelligent father, who was able to direct their minds into channels
which few people of their position in life have the opportunity of
entering. Isaac Herschel was partly of Jewish descent, and he inherited
in a marked degree two very striking Jewish gifts--a turn for music, and
a turn for philosophy. The Jews are probably the oldest civilized race
now remaining on earth; and their musical faculties have been
continuously exercised from a time long before the days of David, so
that now they produce undoubtedly a far larger proportion of musicians
and composers than any other class of the population whatsoever. They
are also deeply interested in the same profound theological and
philosophical problems which were discussed with so much acuteness and
freedom in the Book of Ecclesiastes and the subtle argument of Job and
his friends. There has never been a time when the Jewish mind has not
exercised itself profoundly on these deep and difficult questions; and
the Hanover bandsman inherited from his Jewish ancestry an unusual
interest in similar philosophical subjects. Thus, while the little ones
were sleeping in the same common room at night, William and his father
were often heard discussing the ideas of such abstruse thinkers as
Newton and Leibnitz, whose names must have sounded strange indeed to the
ordinary frequenters of the Hanover barracks. On such occasions good
dame Herschel was often compelled to interpose between them, lest the
loudness of their logic should wake the younger children in the crib
hard by.

William, however, possessed yet another gift, which he is less likely to
have derived from the Jewish side of the house. He and his brother
Alexander were both distinguished by a natural taste for mechanics, and
early gave proof of their learning by turning neat globes with the
equator and ecliptic accurately engraved upon them, or by making model
instruments for their own amusement out of bits of pasteboard. Thus, in
early opportunities and educational advantages, the young Herschels
certainly started in life far better equipped than most working men's
sons; and, considering their father's doubtful position, it may seem at
first sight rather a stretch of language to describe him as a working
man at all. Nevertheless, when one remembers the humble grade of
military bandsmen in Germany, even at the present day, and the fact that
most of the Herschel family remained in that grade during all their
lives, it is clear that William Herschel's life may be fairly included
within the scope of the present series. "In my fifteenth year," he says
himself, "I enlisted in military service," and he evidently looked upon
his enlistment in exactly the same light as that of any ordinary

England and Hanover were, of course, very closely connected together at
the middle of the last century. The king moved about a great deal from
one country to the other; and in 1755 the regiment of Hanoverian Guards
was ordered on service to England for a year. William Herschel, then
seventeen years of age, and already a member of the band, went together
with his father; and it was in this modest capacity that he first made
acquaintance with the land where he was afterwards to attain the dignity
of knighthood and the post of the king's astronomer. He played the oboe,
like his father before him, and no doubt underwent the usual severe
military discipline of that age of stiff stocks and stern punishments.
His pay was very scanty, and out of it he only saved enough to carry
home one memento of his English experiences. That memento was in itself

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