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PART IV.: 1844—1848 - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 1 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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A BRIEF SUB-EDITORSHIP.
The editor of the projected newspaper, Mr. James Wilson, had suggested that I should, for a time at any rate, reside with him; but, as his domestic arrangements were temporarily dislocated by the absence of his wife in Scotland, it was arranged that the early part of my sojourn in Birmingham should take the form of a visit to Mr. Joseph Sturge. There resulted a number of pleasant days passed in his house at Edgbaston.
I retain a clear recollection of his remarkable face, uniting, in an unusual way, great kindness with great firmness: beneath an overhanging brow, eyes expressive of much sympathy, and then a very massive chin. The determination implied by the massive chin took the form of unyielding pursuit of his benevolent aims. Already I had received a favourable impression of him, and closer knowledge made it more favourable still, as witness the following passage in a letter to my friend Lott:—
“You would be delighted with Mr. Sturge did you know as much of him as I now do. He is one of the most lovable kind of men in his social and domestic character that I have yet come in contact with; perfectly open, simple and amiable, he is as genuine a Christian, in the practical sense of the term, as could well be imagined.”
I am glad that the occasion occurs for thus describing him, since his name is scarcely known to the present generation. Had he “chastised” wild tribes who did not quietly yield to our intruding explorers, or had he picked a quarrel with some native king, broken up his government, and presently appropriated his territory, or had he bombarded the fortifications of a people who would not submissively accept our administration of their affairs, he might have been rewarded by a grateful nation, and his memory cherished. But he did none of those things. He only devoted persistent energies to the abolition of slavery, and then laboured to mitigate the sufferings of kidnapped negroes—did nothing more than spend time, money, and life, in promoting human welfare at home and abroad.
Connected with my residence in the house of Mr. Wilson, which shortly followed, there is but one incident worth recalling.
Up to this time I had never paid any attention to mental philosophy, save under the form of phrenology; respecting some doctrines of which my criticisms, as we have seen, imply a leaning towards subjective analysis. But the science of mind had no temptation for me, otherwise than as affording these occasions for independent judgment: there had never been any deliberate study of it. All through my life Locke’s Essay had been before me on my father’s shelves, but I had never taken it down; or, at any rate, I have no recollection of having ever read a page of it. My glance over a small part of Mill’s Logic, named in a preceding chapter, had, indeed, shown that there was a latent interest in psychological questions of the intellectual class; but nothing more had come of it. Now, however, I was led to consider one of the cardinal problems which the theory of human intelligence presents.
For I found in Mr. Wilson’s house (rather oddly, as it seemed, for there was not a soupçon of philosophy in him) a copy of a translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, at that time, I believe, recently published. This I commencēd reading, but did not go far. The doctrine that Time and Space are “nothing but” subjective forms,—pertain exclusively to consciousness and have nothing beyond consciousness answering to them,—I rejected at once and absolutely; and, having done so, went no further. Being then, as always, an impatient reader, even of things which in large measure interest me and meet with a general acceptance, it has always been out of the question for me to go on reading a book the fundamental principles of which I entirely dissent from. Tacitly giving an author credit for consistency, I, without thinking much about the matter, take it for granted that if the fundamental principles are wrong the rest cannot be right; and thereupon cease reading—being, I suspect, rather glad of an excuse for doing so.
Though I was not clearly conscious of them, there must have been two motives prompting this summary dismissal. There was, in the first place, the utter incredibility of the proposition itself; and then, in the second place, there was the want of confidence in the reasonings of any one who could accept a proposition so incredibile. If a writer could, at the very first step in his argument, flatly contradict an immediate intuition of a simple and direct kind, which survives every effort to suppress it, there seemed no reason why, at any and every subsequent stage of his argument, he might not similarly affirm to be true a proposition exactly opposite to that which the intellect recognizes as true. Every coherent body of conclusions is a fabric of separate intuitions, into which, by analysis, it is decomposable; and, if one of the primary intuitions is of no authority, then no one of the secondary intuitions is of any authority: the entire intellectual structure is rotten.
I must have dimly felt then what I afterwards clearly saw, and have set forth in The Principles of Psychology, §§ 388—391—the fact that belief in the unqualified supremacy of reason is the superstition of philosophers. Without showing any warrant, or making any attempt to show a warrant (there being in fact no warrant to be shown), they assume that in each step throughout an argument, the dependence of conclusion upon premises, which in the last resort is an intuition, has a validity greater than that of any other kind of intuition: the truth being, contrariwise, that it has a smaller validity. A simple intuition, such as that by which we apprehend Space as external, has a clearness and strength transcending the clearness and strength of any intuition by which we see, internally, that, given certain data, a certain inference follows; and still more has it a clearness and strength immensely transcending that of a series of such internal intuitions, constituting an argument. All that it is competent for reason to do, as a critic of external perception, is to re-interpret its dicta in such way as to make them consistent—not, for instance, to deny the apparent motion of the Sun through the heavens from East to West, but to show that this apparent motion may equally be produced by the motion of the Earth round its axis from West to East; and that this interpretation of the appearance is congruous with various other perceptions, which the original interpretation is not.
But I am digressing too much. It remains only to say that whenever, in later years, I have taken up Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, I have similarly stopped short after rejecting its primary proposition.
But what about The Pilot? Well, there is not much to be said. After various mischances—breaking down of the printing machine and so forth—the paper was launched on the 28th September, and thereafter went on for a time with regularity.
Beyond discharging my functions as sub-editor, I did my share in the writing of leading articles. Among those which came from my pen, I find mentioned in letters, or otherwise identified, the following:—“Railway Administration”; “A Political Paradox”; “Magisterial Delinquencies”; “A Political Parable and its Moral”; “Honesty is the Best Policy”; “The Impolicy of Dishonesty”; and “The Great Social Law.”
In these articles I observe only one thing worthy to be named—the growth of a certain belief, already vaguely indicated two years before in the letters on The Proper Sphere of Government, and now more clearly expressed. In the article entitled “Honesty is the Best Policy,” contending that this truth holds more certainly of a society than of an individual, since in a society evil reactions cannot be escaped, it is said:—“The life and health of a society are the life and health of one creature. The same vitality exists throughout the whole mass. One part cannot suffer without the rest being ultimately injured.”
But now, after about a month, the sub-editing and the writing of leaders, were alike suddenly cut short in a quite unexpected way.*
A PARLIAMENTARY SURVEY.
For what reason, and in what way, my engagement on The Pilot was so unexpectedly broken—temporarily as intended but permanently as it proved—will best be shown by a letter written to my father on the 30th of October, 1844.
“Probably you will wonder at receiving a letter from me dated Dudley, and will doubtless be still more surprised to hear that I have returned for a few weeks to my old profession.
“You must know that, something like a fortnight ago, Mr. Hughes (whom you probably remember as my old superior on the B. and G. Railway), called on me at The Pilot office, and told me that he had heard from Edmund Sturge that I was in Birmingham, and that he had called to know whether I could come and assist him in making a survey of a branch from the B. and G. Railway to pass through Droitwich, Kidderminster, Stourbridge, Dudley, and terminating at Wolverhampton. After thanking him for the offer I told him that I was then engaged with Mr. Wilson, and that, even did I think it desirable, I could not honourably leave him without due notice; and, as he wanted me immediately, I was compelled to decline the offer. This I did the more readily as the engagement was only a temporary one, consequent upon the making of the parliamentary survey, which has to be concluded by the end of November.
“With this interview the matter, as I supposed, terminated. However, on Saturday last Wilson told me that the Sturges had been talking with him about the matter, and that, in consequence of the scarcity of engineers during the present railway mania, Mr. Hughes was very anxious to have me, and had commissioned Edmund Sturge to endeavour to make some arrangement. The matter ended in Wilson’s agreeing to liberate me for a month on condition that Joseph Sturge liberated him from his duties as secretary to the C.S.U. This he had no difficulty in doing, as there is nothing stirring in that matter just now, and Wilson will be able for a short time, with the assistance of a reporter he is about to employ, to go on without me.
“And so here I am booked for a month’s hard work in surveying and levelling. I am to be paid at the usual rate for such work, namely a guinea a day and my expenses paid, so that I shall be able to get a little stock in hand by the undertaking. I daresay a month’s out of door work will do me no harm, either, on the score of health. Not that I was wanting it, for I have been very well ever since I left home.”
Little need to be said concerning the work I had to do in making, first the trial section, and then the permanent section, between Stourbridge and Wolverhampton—work which occupied me during a good part of November. I may remark only that the country traversed was one of the worst imaginable—a jumble of coal-pits, iron works, cinder-heaps, tramways, canals, lanes, streets, ground which had subsided and houses which were cracked in consequence of the abstraction of coal from beneath; and that the levels had to be taken in the midst of wind and rain and more or less smoke.
Nor need I dwell on the week or ten days ending November which were spent at The Swan, Birmingham—then the chief old-established hotel. There, in company with Mr. Hughes and other members of the late B. and G. staff—Loch, Harrison, Bishopp—I helped to carry on the process of preparing the plans, to be deposited at the end of the month. In this case, as in all such cases, there came towards the close a good deal of unceasing work: the day being eked out by many hours of the night. For it is with the getting up of plans for Parliament, as it is with the starting on a journey—however much time is taken in preparation, there is always hurry-scurry at the last.
After the end of November my letters for a considerable interval are dated 12, Waterloo Street, Birmingham. Further routine work had to be done, in the preparation of parish-plans, &c.; and the getting of this work done Mr. Hughes let to me.
How my engagement with The Pilot, which was to be only suspended for a month or so, finally lapsed, I cannot remember. Possibly a representation was made to the Sturges, interested alike in the railway and in the journal, that my engineering services could not be dispensed with; and possibly there existed an unexpressed feeling which led them the more readily to yield to the alleged need. During my visit to Joseph Sturge, he received a considerable shock on discovering how profoundly at variance were our views about religion. Some question of his brought out a confession of my rationalism; and I suspect that on this disclosure he repented that he had been instrumental in bringing me to Birmingham. The reason, however, was not one which could be assigned for cancelling the engagement, and nothing was done: friendly feeling being very well maintained notwithstanding this manifestation of disbelief, which he doubtless thought so shocking. But now that there occurred a demand for my aid in another direction, probably he and his brothers, with whom he co-operated, rather rejoiced that my journalistic functions might conveniently end. Though there was entire sympathy on their part with all that I had written in The Pilot, yet the consciousness of disagreement on so all-important a matter must have been a cause for dissatisfaction.
And so I quietly reverted for a time to my previous profession. Through December, January, February, and March (if sundry short breaks are omitted) my life alternated between lodgings in Edgbaston and the office in Waterloo Street; where, presently, my duties became little more than nominal.
Mr. Lawrence Heyworth has been mentioned as one with whom acquaintance was made at the Birmingham conference, and with whom I had, a year or more after, some correspondence respecting the carrying out of an invention. During December, 1844, there arose an indefinite suggestion that I should visit him; and at the end of the year this suggestion became a definite one: the result being that the first few days of 1845 were spent at his house, Yew Tree, near Liverpool. When writing to my father subsequently I said—
“Mr. Heyworth and I had a great deal of conversation, and on the whole agreed remarkably well in our sentiments. He is a particularly liberal-minded and thinking man, and, though nominally a Churchman, is practically no more one than I am myself.”
A letter to Lott dated 1 February, after giving an allied characterization of Mr. Heyworth, proceeds to give two characterizations which are of much more importance.
“I was, however, most highly pleased with his daughter and her husband—Mr. and Mrs. Potter. They have been lately married, and appear to me the most admirable pair I have ever seen. I don’t know whether you ever heard me mention Miss Heyworth as being somewhat of a notability. I have, however, been for some time past curious to see her, partly in consequence of the very high terms in which my uncle Thomas has always spoken of her, and partly because I have once or twice seen her name mentioned in the papers as one who was very zealous in the anti-corn-law agitation; engaging herself in distributing tracts and conversing with persons on the subject.
“It would never be inferred from her manner and general appearance that she possessed so independent a character. She is perfectly feminine and has an unusually graceful and refined manner. To a phrenologist, however, the singularity of the character is very obvious. [Here follow a profile outline of her head and a set of inferences.]
“Mr. Potter, however, commanded my highest admiration. He is I think the most lovable being I have yet seen. He is evidently genuine. His amiability is not that of manner but that of reality. He has a noble head—a democratic one of course [his earlier life and his later life might be cited as opposing evidences on this point]—but one so beautifully balanced in other respects that one can quite delight in contemplating it. The perfect agreement between his head and face is remarkable: the features are Grecian and their expression is exactly what a phrenologist would anticipate.
“He is I believe very poetical—admires Shelley enthusiastically and conceives him by far the finest poet of his era, in which I quite coincide with him. In fact we sympathized in our sentiments on all subjects on which we conversed, and although I might feel somewhat flattered by this, I must say that I felt so strongly the beauty of his disposition as contrasted with my own, that I felt more dissatisfied with myself than I have done for a long time past.”
For the reproduction of these passages there is a very sufficient reason. The friendship thus initiated lasted until the deaths of both. It influenced to a considerable extent the current of my life; and, through their children and grandchildren, influences it still.
Both on my own behalf and on behalf of my friend, I ought perhaps to say that the great admiration of Shelley above indicated did not continue. He, in after years, lost it almost entirely; and in me it diminished considerably. Why this was I do not feel certain.
Here I may fitly seize the occasion for saying something about my tastes in poetry. A good deal of the feeling which, in a letter to my friend Lott concerning “Prometheus Unbound,” prompted the sentence—“It is the only poem over which I have ever become enthusiastic,” was, I believe, due to the fact that it satisfied one of my organic needs—variety. I say organic, because I perceive that it runs throughout my constitution, beginning with likings for food. Monotony of diet is not simply repugnant; it very soon produces indigestion. And an analogous trait seems to pervade my nervous system to its highest ramifications. Both the structure as a whole and all parts of it, soon reach their limits of normal activity, beyond which further activity is alike disagreeable and injurious.
Whether the fact is rightly to be explained thus or not, the fact itself is unquestionable. Even in my boyhood I had a dislike to ballads with recurring burdens; and as I grew older this dislike grew into a disgust which rose almost to exasperation. There was a kind of vicarious shame at this inane repetition of an idea. I recognize, indeed, a few cases in which repetition, when emphasizing a continuously-increasing feeling, is appropriate and very effective; as, for instance, in Tennyson’s “Œnone”—“O Mother Ida, hear me ere I die.” But usually the repetitions which characterize popular poetry are meaningless, and imply a childish poverty of thought.
Originating, as it seems, in a kindred way, has ever continued an indifference to epic poetry—a want of liking, due in part to the unchanging form of the vehicle and in part to the inadequately varied character of the matter: narratives, incidents, adventures—often of substantially similar kinds. My feeling was well shown when, some twenty years ago, I took up a translation of the Iliad for the purpose of studying the superstitions of the early Greeks, and, after reading some six books, felt what a task it would be to go on—felt that I would rather give a large sum than read to the end. Passing over its tedious enumerations of details of dresses and arms, of chariots and horses, of blows given and received, filling page after page—saying nothing of the boyish practice of repeating descriptive names, such as well-greaved Greeks, long-haired Achæans, horse-breaking Trojans, and so forth (epithets which when not relevant to the issue are injurious); passing over, too, the many absurdities, such as giving the genealogy of a horse while in the midst of a battle; and not objecting that the subject-matter appeals continually to brutal passions and the instincts of the savage; it suffices to say that to me the ceaseless repetition of battles and speeches is intolerable. Even did the ideas presented raise pleasurable feelings, a lack of sufficiently broad contrasts in matter and manner would repel me. The like holds with other epic poems—holds, too, when the themes are such as appeal to my sympathies. When reading Dante, for instance, I soon begin to want change in the mode of presentation and change in the quality of the substance, which is too continuously rich: a fabric full of beauties but without beauty in outline—a gorgeous dress ill made up.
Another requirement:—All poetry which I care to read must have intensity. As I have elsewhere said—“While the matter embodied is idealized emotion, the vehicle is the idealized language of emotion”; and, thus regarding emotion as the essence of poetry, it has always seemed to me that an indispensable trait in fine poetry is strong emotion. If the emotion is not of a pronounced kind, the proper vehicle for it is prose; and the rhythmical form becomes proper only as the emotion rises. It is doubtless for this reason that I am in but small measure attracted to Wordsworth. Admitting, though I do, that throughout his works there are sprinkled many poems of great beauty, my feeling is that most of his writing is not wine but beer.
In pursuance of the conception just indicated, I have occasionally argued that the highest type of poetry must be one in which the form continually varies with the matter; rising and falling in its poetical traits according as the wave of emotion grows stronger or becomes weaker—now descending to a prose which has only a suspicion of rhythm in it, and characterized by words and figures of but moderate strength, and now, through various grades, rising to the lyrical form, with its definite measures and vivid metaphors. Attempts have I think been made to produce works having his heterogeneity of form, but with no great success: transcendent genius is required for it.
About others’ requirements I cannot of course speak; but my own requirement is—little poetry and of the best. Even the true poets are far too productive. If they would write only one-fourth of the amount, the world would be a gainer. As for the versifiers and the minor poets, they do little more than help to drown good literature in a flood of bad. There is something utterly wearisome in this continual working-up afresh the old materials into slightly different forms—talking continually of skies and stars, of seas and streams, of trees and flowers, sunset and sunrise, the blowing of breezes and the singing of birds, &c.—now describing these familiar things themselves, and now using them in metaphors that are worn threadbare. The poetry commonly produced does not bubble up as a spring but is simply pumped up; and pumped-up poetry is not worth reading.
No one should write verse if he can help it. Let him suppress it if possible; but if it bursts forth in spite of him it may be of value.
As a helper in completing the plans of the proposed line, there was mentioned above Mr. W. F. Loch: one of those referred to but not named at the beginning of Chapter VII. Another of the old B. and G. staff, Mr. G. D. Bishopp, had married Loch’s sister; and Loch was residing with them at Edgbaston. Some additional years of experience of life had sobered him a good deal; and one result was that there presently grew up a friendship between us which has lasted from that time to this. After the end of November he had nothing to do; and, when the work which December brought had been completed, nothing remained for me either beyond a formal attendance. I was retained rather with a view to contingencies than from any immediate need.
Hence it happened that during the early months of 1845, we saw a good deal of one another. Having taken to geology, he had gained some acquaintance with the formations round Birmingham; and the common interest thus established between us, led to geological excursions here and there. One was to the Clent Hills—I think that was the name—where an extrusion of trap had taken place in remote times. A curious structure called “The Wren’s Nest,” near Dudley, was the goal of another expedition. And then, besides long walks such as these implied, there were more numerous and shorter walks about the environs of Birmingham. Discussions were not infrequent concomitants—political and religious discussions more especially. At that time Loch retained the beliefs given him by his education, and we were in constant opposition—he, orthodox and a Tory, I heterodox and a Radical—I, shocked at his harsh way of talking about the people, he shocked at my heretical ideas. Our debates had, like most debates, but small results: those on religion, especially, being futile from lack of a common standing-ground. For his faith he assigned the usual reasons—cited history and the Christian evidences. I, ignoring these, referred continually to the necessities of things, the order of nature, the uniformity of causation, as the grounds for disbelief. And so our fight was carried on in two different elements; neither hitting the other to any purpose. In course of time, however, my friend was forced to abandon his beliefs; not by any such reasonings as I used, but by an invasion carried into what he thought his strongholds. A letter of mine to Lott, written some years after, giving an account of the matter, is worth quoting:—
“I do not remember whether I have told you that the question of revelation has been for these three years past a constant subject of debate between Loch and myself, and that we made but little progress towards an agreement in consequence of his not putting much faith in the abstract arguments of the origin of will, of belief, and of motive, and the inferences to be thence drawn, which to me were so conclusive of the question; and of my not attaching much weight to arguments derived from historical evidence. Last spring he (Loch) had been reading Paley’s Evidences and told me that he thought it almost unanswerable, but that he would be very glad to read any analogous work on the opposite side of the question. I recommended Strauss’s Life of Jesus. He has been three months in reading it—has examined every reference, every quotation, and every argument, with the greatest care, and now confesses that it has thoroughly convinced him. It has, as he expresses it, taken him completely in the flank, by following a much more fundamental line of argument than that taken by Paley. Paley’s object was to prove the authenticity of the gospels by historical evidence. Strauss, on the other hand, assumes their authenticity, and then proceeds, by a comparison and examination of their internal evidences, to prove that there is no reliance to be placed on the correctness of their narratives; and Loch says that what the Westminster Review says of the work is perfectly true—namely that after reading it, all [that] had before looked so clear, simple, and straightforward, becomes a misty chaos of contradiction and uncertainty.”
Returning to the discussions we carried on during these excursions round Birmingham, I may add that sometimes the moral implications of the question were entered upon: he contending, as is commonly done, that in the absence of revelation there would be no knowledge of right and wrong; and I, contrariwise, contending that right and wrong are determined by the nature of things, and may be deduced from it. I still remember his loud laughter when I, on one occasion, said that the moral Euclid remained to be written.
As all who have read thus far have perceived, I usually quote only the essential parts of letters; thinking it useless to occupy space with addresses and signatures, and undesirable to waste the reader’s attention over superfluous passages. But occasionally there comes a letter all parts of which have one or other significance, and which it is therefore desirable to quote in full. Here is one of this class, written from Birmingham on 18 March, 1845.
“My dear Lott,
“You fully succeeded in raising my curiosity to boiling point by your three-page prelude to the tit-bit of news. ‘Botheration to him,’ I every now and then exclaimed as I found myself baulked, just as I thought I was coming to the pith of the matter, by some new prefatory remarks—‘when will he come to the point?’ Truly, I was strongly reminded of the scenes we oftentimes find depicted in old novels, where some garrulous domestic charged with the delivery of news of vital importance, edifies his breathlessly-anxious listeners with introductory remeiniscences concerning something that his or her grandmother had seen or heard talk of.
“Great however as were my anticipations concerning the extraordinary interest of the promised intelligence, they were wholly transcended by the reality. Had you seen the height to which my eyebrows were elevated, you would have been in fear lest they should never find their way down again. Probably they would have reminded you of Mr. B———’s when he sings ‘Fly away.’ And then, after all when they did settle themselves to their usual level, I began—I began—what will you say to me when I confess that—that I began to laugh! Why I laughed I really cannot say. You know that I consider myself somewhat of an adept in the analysis of feeling, but I own that in this case I am at fault. I think my laughter chiefly proceeded from sympathy with you, and it may be that it partly arose from the incongruous image that immediately presented itself to my mind of so sedate a young man as yourself making a declaration; for I must own that to me a declaration always carries with it a spice of the ludicrous, and I have a considerable horror of making one myself, partly on that account.
“After my laughter had subsided, however, I began to feel rather envious, seeing that you who are three years my junior should have already found someone to love you, whilst poor I am for aught I can see far enough from such a desideratum. I often feel melancholy enough at not having yet found any one to serve for the type of my ideal, and were it not that I make up the deficiency as well as I can by anticipations of future happiness, I should scarcely think existence worth having.
“I do not think you can entertain much fear as to my criticism upon your choice. You know I have a very high opinion of Emily Roe, and I think you might have sought far before you found one so well suited to you. Now that I consider it there appears to be much harmony of feeling and sentiment between you, and this is perhaps one of the first essentials to permanent happiness. The difference of age is the only drawback that I see, and perhaps one’s notions on this point originate more in popular prejudice than in reason. You have had abundant opportunity of studying each other’s characters; and I should say that the knowledge thus obtained will be a guarantee for matrimonial felicity (how very odd that term seems by the way as applied to you).
“I little thought that the conversation we had upon the subject of marriage when you were here, was of such immediate interest to you. Now that I do know it, however, I almost think I must recapitulate for your especial benefit, the opinions I then expressed; so here goes.
“1. You agree I believe with Emerson that the true sentiment of love between man and woman arises from each serving as the representative of the other’s ideal. From this position I think we may deduce the corollary that the first condition to happiness in the married state is continuance of that representation of the ideal; and hence the conduct of each towards the other should always be so regulated as to give no offence to ideality. And on this ground I conceive that instead of there being, as is commonly the case, a greater familiarity and carelessness with regard to appearances between husband and wife, there ought to be a greater delicacy than between any other parties.
“2. There should be a thorough recognition on both sides of the equality of rights, and no amount of power should ever be claimed by the one party greater than that claimed by the other. The present relationship existing between husband and wife, where one claims a command over the actions of the other, is nothing more than a remnant of the old leaven of slavery. It is necessarily destructive of refined love; for how can a man continue to regard as his type of the ideal a being whom he has, by denying an equality of privilege with himself, degraded to something below himself? To me the exercise of command on the part of the husband seems utterly repugnant to genuine love, and I feel sure that a man of generous feeling has too much sympathy with the dignity of his wife to think of dictating to her, and that no woman of truly noble mind will submit to be dictated to.
“3. The last important condition I hold to be the forgetting, to as great an extent as possible, the existence of a legal bond, and the continual dependence upon the natural bond of affection. I do not conceive the most perfect happiness attainable while the legal bond continues; for as we can never rid ourselves of the consciousness of it, it must always influence our conduct. But the next best thing to destroying it is to banish it from our minds, and let husband and wife strive to act towards each other as they would were there no such tie.
“If men were wise they would see that the affection that God has implanted in us is amply sufficient, when not weakened by artificial aid, to ensure permanence of union; and if they would have more faith in this all would go well. To tie together by human law what God has tied together by passion, is about as wise as it would be to chain the moon to the earth lest the natural attraction existing between them should not be sufficient to prevent them flying asunder.
“There! I hope you will duly cogitate upon my lecture. Perhaps it may not be quite the thing to talk to a lover about the philosophy of love. I rather think, however, that it is well in all cases to let practice be guided by some theory rather than by nothing; and I think it is well for all incipient Benedicts to get definite opinions upon the matter.
“But whatever theory you may adopt I think you will believe me when I say that I hope the result may be abundant happiness; and if I should be so fortunate as to be able to accelerate that happiness, I assure you it will be a matter of great gratification to me.
“We are still here in a state of uncertainty, but I am in daily expectation of the matter being determined. If it is settled favourably we shall go up to London immediately. If otherwise you will in all probability soon see me at Derby.
“I lately bought Shelley’s poems in four volumes. It will be a great treat to you to read them, which you shall do the first time I come over. His ‘Prometheus Unbound’ is the most beautiful thing I ever read by far.
“There is a book not long since published called ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ which I heard very highly spoken of by a gentleman at Liverpool, who was evidently a good judge. From what I hear I think you would like it. Would it not suit the Mechanics?
‘I am sorry to hear that your sister is still so delicate. But we may hope that the return of warm weather will effect a restoration. Give my kind regards to her and your mother, and also to the ladies over the way; and receive yourself all appropriate congratulations and good wishes from
“Your affectionate friend,
Respecting the contents of this letter it seems proper to remark that at the age of 73, one must not be held bound to all the opinions one expressed at the age of 24.
During January, February, and March, 1845, our railway scheme had been in a state of suspended animation. The times were those during which the chief railway companies were fighting for territories—poaching upon one another’s manors: aggression being followed by counter-aggression. The Great Western Company was going to Parliament for powers to make the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton line—a line which threatened to compete injuriously not only with the North Western, but also with the Birmingham and Gloucester (or was it the Midland? for an expression in one of my letters suggests to me that possibly the amalgamation had at that time taken place). A result of this invasion on the part of the Great Western, was the getting up of the scheme with which I was connected—a line starting from Worcester and running through Droitwich, Kidderminster, Stourbridge, and Dudley to Wolverhampton. During these early months of 1845 there was, I suspect, some kind of negotiation going on. At any rate there was considerable doubt whether our line would be proceeded with—a doubt which, in the mind of Mr. Hughes, became so complete a disbelief that on the 20th March he sent me an account of what was due for my services, with the promise to send me a cheque in a few days when he received his own.
Suddenly, however, there came a transformation scene; as is implied by the following paragraph in a letter to my father dated 31st March:—
“It is well that I did not return to Derby with you, as you proposed when you were here; for the day after you left this, news arrived that we were to proceed with our bill, and on the following morning I had to go off express to Pembroke to see Mr. Hughes.”
The letter then proceeds to describe how I went by rail to Gloucester, by coach to Carmarthen, and thence by post-chaise to Pembroke. But the expedition is best pour-trayed in a letter subsequently written to Lott:—
“And first I must not forget that just after I last wrote to you I had a very agreeable journey into South Wales. I wish you had been with me. Your poetical feelings would have had a great gratification. A day’s journey through a constantly changing scene of cloud-capped hills with here and there a sparkling and romantic river winding perhaps round the base of some ruined castle, is a treat not often equalled. I enjoyed it much. When I reached the seaside, however, and found myself once again within sound of the breakers, I almost danced with pleasure. To me there is no place so delightful as the beach. It is the place where, more than anywhere else, philosophy and poetry meet—where in fact you are presented by Nature with a never-ending feast of knowledge and beauty. There is no place where I can so palpably realize Emerson’s remark that ‘Nature is the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance.’
“I was most interested during my journey in observing the features and characteristics of the Welsh; and one circumstance I noticed will amuse you. A country girl travelled for a few miles by my side on the top of the coach, and, after making sundry enquiries as to the peculiarities of the people, I ventured to ask her whether she was partly Welsh herself. ‘Yes,’ said she laughing, ‘I am half and half.’ And what do you think led me to ask the question? She was very like you. I fancied I could detect in various faces in the towns we passed through, the same cast of features, which, as I took it, indicated the mixed race. I admired them much (now don’t accuse me of flattery).”
Returning from Tenby by way of Bristol and London (to see Mr. Hughes), I reached Birmingham before the end of the month, merely to leave it again almost immediately. A letter to my uncle Thomas dated 1 April says:—
“We are now about to spend a few days in walking over the line to refresh our memories with what may have been forgotten, and we are then to proceed to London to enter upon the parliamentary business.”
Here I am shown how dangerous it is to say that an incident never happened because there is no recollection of it. Had I not by this, and another passage in the letter, been made to think about it, and had it not been that while all the rest had faded absolutely, one solitary incident at the hotel in Kidderminster was recalled by effort, I should have asserted quite positively that no such expedition as this ever took place.
AN INTERVAL IN TOWN.
Private bills, or at least all of those asking for authority to interfere with lands, houses, roads, or other possessions, public or private, have (or then had) to pass through a preliminary stage, which is known as examination by Committee on Standing Orders. Justice obviously requires that all whose properties will certainly, or probably, or even possibly, be interfered with in the execution of the proposed works, shall be duly informed of the impending interferences; so that they may be prepared for opposing, if need be, the desired authorization. It is, therefore, directed that detailed plans and sections, showing what is to be done, shall be deposited in the localities affected (and afterwards the relevant parts of the plans, &c., in each parish), a considerable time before the meeting of Parliament; and that there should also be made accessible, certain “books of reference,” by which the plans, &c., may be interpreted. Of course these requirements may be adequately or inadequately fulfilled; and it is the function of the Standing Orders Committee to go carefully through the plans, &c., to see whether they sufficiently meet the requirements: usually being guided in their judgments by the criticisms of experts, employed by opponents to detect errors and shortcomings. Always some imperfections exist, and are most of them discovered; and the Committee has to decide whether these imperfections are or are not so serious as to invalidate the application.
In the days of which I write, the new Houses of Parliament were in course of erection. The part eventually provided for committee-rooms had not been built, and there ran along the Thames-side a temporary wooden structure, divided into the many apartments at that time required for those who dealt with the many railway-bills brought before Parliament. A long corridor, carpeted with cocoa-nut matting to diminish noise, flanked these chambers of inquisition; and, during the day up to 4 o’clock, this corridor served as a promenade for various of those who were concerned in the schemes before one or other committee, or about shortly to be brought before one. Here, along with coadjutors, there were daily to be met old engineering friends; and the talk, now grave, now gay, broken from time to time by visits into the committee rooms to see how this or that inquiry was progressing, filled a life which for a short time was pleasant enough, but which eventually came to be rather wearisome. Hence the following extract from a letter written home on 25 April:—
“Yesterday we passed safely through the Standing Orders Committee, and, greatly to our satisfaction, put an end to our sauntering-in-parliamentary-lobbies-life, which has now lasted for about ten days.
“Mr. Hughes left for Pembroke last night, where he will remain until the 5th May, when we are to go into committee ‘on the merits,’ as it is technically called. I have to make sundry preparations, such as getting out the rest of the bridge drawings, &c., &c., which will fully occupy the intervening time. . . .
“I think of going down to Blackwall this evening to see the ‘Great Britain’ steamer. I hear that it is well worth a visit in a professional point of view.”
There is also in this letter a brief reference to such small amount of social intercourse as I then had; but of this, more presently.
The weariness of this waiting was compensated by London distractions, of which I now took a fair share. During my residence in Town when 17, I never went to a place of amusement; but now that I had more means I yielded to the appetite for theatricals. The following letter to Lott, dated 7 May, contains passages expressing opinions about some kinds of them:—
“Hutton [an elder brother of R. H. Hutton] and I went together to the Opera. I was dreadfully disappointed. I was not roused to an emotion of anything like enthusiasm during the whole time. The inconsistencies of recitative dialogue, the singing words of wholly opposite meanings to the same harmony, &c., &c., so continually annoyed me as to destroy all the pleasure due to the music or the story. Neither was the effect of the music so great as I had anticipated. It did not fulfil its ambition, if you understand what that means. The effects of its several parts were not powerful enough to render them fit portions of so large a composition. The structure wanted a massiveness more in proportion to its size. As it was, it gave me the idea of rickettiness.
“However, I am going to give the thing another trial. The Opera I heard was ‘Sonnambula,’ and some of the first singers were absent, so that I did not hear the greatest effects. To-morrow night Hutton and I are going to hear ‘Don Giovanni.’ ”
The result of this second trial was much like that of the first. It seemed to me that a series of pretty airs and duets did not constitute an opera, as rightly conceived. Then, as always, I was intolerant of gross breaches of probability. Though able to listen without too obtrusive a sense of incongruity to the melodic renderings of their feelings by hero and heroine, since song is natural to high emotion, yet I could not help making internal protests against the extension of musical utterance to other characters in the drama, who were not similarly moved. That serving-men and waiting-maids should be made poetical, and prompted to speak in recitative, because their masters and mistresses happened to be in love, was too conspicuous an absurdity; and the consciousness of this absurdity went far towards destroying what pleasure I might otherwise have derived from the work. It is with music as with painting—a great divergence from naturalness in any part, so distracts my attention from the meaning or intention of the whole, as almost to cancel gratification.
There is in the same letter mention of Haydn’s Creation, and of the pleasure I derived from hearing it. In the absence of attempted dramatic rendering, attention could, when listening to this, be given more fully to the music; and any incongruities felt were far less pronounced.
Following the order of dates, I am led here to quote a letter relevant to a very different matter—the ending of a friendship. Up to this time there had been kept up the correspondence with E. A. B———; and, now that I had come to London, he spent an evening with me at 64, Stafford Place, Pimlico, where I was lodging. Our conversation ended in a theological discussion, in which my rationalistic views, then more pronounced than at the time of our previous personal intercourse, were clearly disclosed. There resulted a letter from him dated May 6, 1845:—
“My dear Spencer,
“It is now fast drawing towards the close of the fifth year since I made your acquaintance, and I hope I need not assure you that your friendship during that period has been one of my chief sources of pleasure. From the time when accident threw us together at Worcester, and from circumstances we were so intimately associated, I have always felt the strongest feelings of regard towards you and was pleased to think those feelings mutual.
“I merely remind you of this to show you that it could be no ordinary cause which could induce me to renounce voluntarily a friendship which has afforded me so very much gratification as yours has done; that the necessity has accrued for so doing I shall ever most deeply regret and it is only after long and painful thought that I have been induced to see the necessity of it.
“That we have held different opinions upon many points of more or less importance, I am perfectly aware; but as far as I can call to mind, they have been always upon points upon which such difference has been to a very considerable extent allowable, or upon subjects which are, and must remain, matters of opinion. But the subjects which we discussed last Saturday (as far as I can recollect for the first time) do not I think belong to either of these classes. They involve everything in our existence of more than momentary interest; our principles and practice, hopes and fears, our happiness or misery here and hereafter. Such matters are of no light moment, and it seems to me that no two persons holding so very different views as you and I do upon such vital points can remain friends to each other. Did I think that there were the remotest chance of anything that I could urge by way of argument or persuasion I should feel that I was bound to leave no means untried to endeavour to bring you to a true view of the truths of religion, but I know so well that no argument on such a subject ever yet convinced one who has closed his ears to everything but human reason, that I feel it would be utterly useless; and the only likely consequence that could ensue would be to shake the belief that I feel so very strongly the truth of. I would to God that I practised all I believe so thoroughly, as far as intellectual belief may go; but which avails absolutely nothing, if it be not accompanied by the belief of the heart. Feeling, as I do, so very painfully that my faith is so little the heartfelt faith which should actuate the true Christian, the danger which might accrue from my association with one so talented as yourself, and so well able to make the worst appear the better reason, I must therefore at however great a sacrifice (and believe me I feel it to be a great one) renounce the pleasure I have received from your acquaintance and request that henceforth we meet no more or meet as strangers. I shall ever remember the past with pleasure and think of you with kindness and I trust that nothing may prevent your feeling similarly towards myself.”
Then follows the expression of a hope that I shall abandon “the lamp of human wisdom” and come round to wiser views. This letter I sent on to Lott; saying that “there was much to be admired in its sincerity” if not in its liberality. Lott’s rejoinder was that did he similarly feel any such danger from our association, he, too, should renounce the friendship.
A subsequent letter from E. A. B———, in answer to one of mine, agreed that though our intimacy must cease, there was no reason why, when we met, we should not meet as old friends. Thereafter no intercourse between us took place for years. Though two of his sisters when visiting Derby (where a younger brother had settled as an agricultural chemist) expressed the wish that friendly relations should be resumed, I declined taking any step until their brother gave the sign. In 1851, soon after the publication of my first book, I did indeed spend an evening with his father and family, and again met him in quite a friendly way; but since that time, save when meeting in the street once or twice, we have never seen one another.
While one friend was lost, others were gained. During those days in April and May, the acquaintanceship with Mr. and Mrs. Potter, which had been initiated while I was visiting Mr. Heyworth at Liverpool, began to develop into a friendship. The already quoted letter of 25 April, speaks of spending an evening with them; and a letter of 25 May contains the paragraph:—
“On Thursday morning I breakfasted with my uncle at the Potters’ in company with Mr. Heyworth. Mr. Potter behaved very kindly. I dined there twice during the visit of my uncle and aunt, and should also have spent last Tuesday evening there with my uncle had I been disengaged. Mr. Heyworth, too, was very cordial in his desire that I should come to see him at Yew Tree whenever I had an opportunity.”
A passage in a letter from my uncle to my father, dated two days later, referring to this same meeting at Mr. Potter’s, says of me:—
“He was also at the complete suffrage meeting at the Crown and Anchor on Wednesday evening. Mr. Potter told me that he had requested him to make a short speech at a Temperance Hall to which he took him, but that Herbert declined. I think it would be much for Herbert’s own benefit if he were to commence in a quiet way the practice of public speaking.”
What other social intercourse I had at that time, did not go beyond evenings spent, and occasional excursions made, with old engineering friends. Writing to Lott some two months later, I said:—
“You have no notion how miserably off I am here for society—more especially female society. It is now at least two months since I have come in contact with any well educated and agreeable woman; for, unluckily, Mr. Potter and his wife and sister have latterly been out of town and I have been deprived of the only society that I prize. . . .
“For want of other resource, Loch (whom you have seen) and I have very frequently spent the evening together in argument, which we have upon several occasions prolonged until one in the morning.”
This last statement surprises me; for though in early days an animated talker, and when with a chosen companion able to go on for hours, I did not remember talking till past midnight. The besoin de parler, requiring to be satisfied irrespective of the person and the topic, never existed in me; and for these many years I have felt no inclination for continued conversation. Still greater is the change in a further respect. That I should be able to sleep after arguing till late into the night, seems to me now almost incredible.
Reverting to the business course of my life, there has here to be quoted, from a letter to my mother dated May 24th, a passage foreshadowing an entire change of prospects.
“Our Railway Bill was withdrawn on Tuesday last in favour of the London and Birmingham scheme, so that my engagement is concluded. There is, however, no cause for regret, as you will readily acknowledge when I tell you that yesterday, as I was sauntering about the Committee-room lobbies, I met Mr. Fox . . . and after accompanying him for about half an hour during his meetings with various people, I walked with him arm-in-arm to his offices in Trafalgar Square. During our walk he was very communicative with regard to their affairs, and behaved altogether in a very friendly manner.”*
And then, on the 5th June, there was sent to my father a statement of definite results.
“I have satisfactorily concluded my engagement with Mr. Fox. My occupation will be a very agreeable one. I am to collect information with regard to the particulars of all works for which the firm propose to tender—to inspect the designs according to which the work is to be executed, where such have been made, and to obtain all necessary information with regard to them—and where there have been no designs made, to obtain from the parties a definite understanding as to the requirements of the case, and then to superintend the getting out of designs.”
This engagement appeared advantageous and promised permanence. Further passages imply another pleasurable anticipation—frequent exercise of the inventive faculty, which the post was likely to call for.
Again I interrupt the narrative to show, so far as may be, the nature of my thoughts in those days; and also to show the small regard for authority, displayed then as always. In a letter to Lott, already above quoted from, there occurs the passage:—
“I have been reading some of Carlyle’s essays. They are very beautifully written and as usual with all his writing, interestingly also. They do not however give the same impression of genius as his other works. In some cases I thought him by no means deep. Some of his quotations from the prose writings of Goethe, were in my estimation not at all creditable either to the author or the critic. I fancy I see you curling your lip at these cavalier remarks on your hero!”
My impression is that this disrespectful estimate referred to the doctrine of renunciation, set forth by Goethe in his account of “The Renunciants,” and applauded by Carlyle; and probably I then thought, as I think still, that it implies anything but a profound conception of human nature—a conception like many of those current among the uncultured, who assume that the emotions can be produced or suppressed at will. The entire mechanism of animate life, brute and human, would be dislocated if the desires which prompt actions were governable in this easy way. The common idea, as well as the Goethe-Carlyle idea, is that the feelings constitute an assembly under the autocratic control of the “will”; whereas they constitute an assembly over which there reigns no established autocrat, but of which now one member and now another gets possession of the presidential chair (then temporarily acquiring the title of “the will”) and rules the rest for a time: being frequently, if not strong, ejected by combinations of others, and occasionally, if strong, effectually resisting their efforts. It is in these last cases that the forcible deposition of the tyrant emotion is proposed. When the feeling overwhelms all others, we are told that it should be put down; and the putting down of it becomes practicable only in proportion as it becomes needless. Tell a mother who has just lost a child, or a lover whose to-morrow’s bride has been drowned, that grief must be suppressed in conformity with the doctrine that pleasures are not to be counted upon, and that she or he must accept a lower standard of happiness. What result is there? None whatever. While sorrow is extreme, consciousness is entirely occupied by it. No alien thought or feeling can gain entrance. Until its intensity has caused exhaustion, and a relative inability to feel, the desirableness of resignation cannot even be listened to, and when it can be listened to the effect is evanescent: recovery from the temporary paralysis of emotion is followed by another paroxysm, during which the propriety of doing without the lost happiness is urged on deaf ears. Only in course of time, when the natural curative process has in chief measure wrought its effect, and the feelings have readjusted themselves to the new conditions—that is, only after “renunciation” has been in large measure spontaneously effected,—can the doctrine of renunciation be listened to, and give form to the new mental state reached. The truth is that in mankind, as in all other kinds, each faculty, bodily or mental, has a normal craving for action. Where the faculty is not a powerful one, and the normal craving is relatively weak, it may be kept out of consciousness. But where it is a strong craving of an important faculty, exclusion of it becomes almost or quite impossible. A bodily appetite, like that of hunger or thirst, furnishes the best test of the doctrine. No one dreams of saying to a starving man that he must get rid of the misery due to his unsatisfied desire by renouncing the gratification of eating, or that, when exposed to a freezing cold with but little clothing on, he must make himself content by ceasing to wish for warmth. And the absurdity, here rendered manifest because the feelings in questions are so strong, holds throughout the whole nature.
But this doctrine of Goethe jumped with Carlyle’s anti-utilitarianism, and with his ridiculous notion that happiness is of no consequence. This notion would have been considerably modified by passing some months in a dark dungeon on bread and water. Or if, after such an experience, he had still refused to admit that gratifications of various kinds ought to be pursued, his body, at any rate, would have testified that they ought.
This parenthetical discussion may not unfitly be taken to symbolize the parenthesis in my career which here occurred. Incidents named a page or two back, apparently implied that I was about to be settled for a considerable period. The settlement lasted for but a short time, however, as witness the following extract from a letter to Lott dated 1 August, 1845:—
“You have probably heard at 8, Wilmot St. that I have left Fox, Henderson, & Co. and that I did so in consequence of the attempt to put upon me work which I had not agreed to do, and the command to do which I paid no attention to (like my democratic spirit was it not?) whereupon a quarrel ensued which ended in our separation.
“My future movements are just at present undecided. Very probably I shall be engaged upon a line in Holland from Amsterdam to the Helder, of which my friend Jackson is to be engineer, and if this scheme misses fire I shall probably retain my present engagement in connexion with the projected Crewe and Aberystwith Line. Probably a fortnight will decide the matter one way or other.”
This line between Aberystwith and Crewe had been projected by one whose name the reader may remember as occurring a few chapters back—Mr. W. B. Prichard. No impression remains with me of anything done in connexion with it. Certainly I did not join the survey party, of which my friend Loch was one. For some reason, the scheme dropped through comparatively early in the season: whether because the engineering difficulties were great, or because the local landowners, not yet so much alive as the English landowners had become to the benefits of railways, gave it no countenance, I cannot tell. But, as we shall presently see, Mr. Prichard had more strings than one to his bow.
ANOTHER PARLIAMENTARY SURVEY.
The rise of the railway-mania dates back, I think, to the autumn of 1844, after the profitableness of railway-investments, and the advantages of railway-communications, had been, for several years, growing conspicuous. Dividends on some of the leading lines, such as the London and Birmingham, had risen to as much as 10 per cent., and £100 shares stood at £234. In earlier days landowners had been strenuous opponents of those “new fangled” highways, which got Act-of-Parliament authority for cutting up their fields and interfering with their privacy. But ten years’ teaching had changed their ideas, and made them anxious to profit by that raised value of land which railway proximity gave. Some towns, too, (such as Nottingham, which successfully resisted establishment of the central Midland Station in its suburbs), had seen the error of their ways, and became eager for that which they had previously rejected. Meanwhile, there had been yearly increasing the classes of contractors, engineers, and lawyers, professionally interested in railway-enterprise, and ready to co-operate in getting up new schemes.
There had, indeed, commenced inversions of the original relations between those who supplied money for making railways and those who made them—inversions which by and by became common. During the thirties, speculative local magnates and far-seeing capitalists, having projected railways which would obviously be advantageous, thereupon chose their engineers, and subsequently let portions of their works to contractors; but, as fast as there grew up considerable classes of wealthy contractors, and of rich engineers accustomed to co-operate with them, it became the habit for these to join in getting up schemes, forming companies, and practically appointing boards—a policy in all ways beneficial to themselves. Thus, by 1845, there had arisen many and various interests uniting to urge on railway-enterprise; and any one who took a broad view of the causes in operation, might have seen that great disasters were certain to ensue.
Naturally with a public having excited imaginations of profit, stimulated by men who had large spoils in prospect, it became easy to “float” multitudinous schemes—bad almost as readily as good. It needed but to take a map of Great Britain, and look out for a comparatively blank space where there were towns of some size; run a pencil-mark through a string of them; gather together some known local names, headed, if possible, by one with a title; issue flaming advertisements; and people rushed in to take shares. Mr. W. B. Prichard was one who seized the opportunity; and, having no lack of self-confidence, and abundant energy, readily achieved a certain success. His first venture, as already intimated, collapsed; but a second, in the prosecution of which I was employed by him, lived through sundry of the early stages. His proposed line, commencing at Northampton, ran through Weedon, Daventry, Southam, Leamington, Warwick, Stratford-on-Avon, and by Alcester to Worcester. As compared with those of many projects which at that time found favour, the mercantile prospects of this were not unpromising. Though the cross-country traffic from end to end might not have been considerable, yet, from the numerous places brought into connexion with the great trunk lines, a good deal of business might have come. A City-firm of lawyers, young and without established name, joined Mr. Prichard in this second venture; and having obtained, as their chairman and chief decoy-duck, Sir John De Beauvoir, they enlisted some notables from the towns to be advantaged, formed a board, and issued a sufficiently attractive prospectus.
Pleasant recollections come back to me on thinking of the latter half of August, the whole of September, and the first half of October, during which the initiation of this scheme, and first stages of its progress, took place. To begin with, there was a drive with Mr. Prichard from Weedon to Warwick, to inspect the line of country to be followed. Then came a meeting of promoters, held at the chief hotel in Northampton, to which I was sent by Mr. Prichard as his representative: he being otherwise engaged. The successful issue of this meeting was followed by a drive with a party of the proposed directors, repeating the one taken shortly before. During this drive I was occasionally cross-questioned respecting the required works and the time to be taken over them; and, meanwhile, had an opportunity of judging those whose names either were, or were about to be, put before the public as sponsers. Neither intellectually nor morally did they commend themselves to me. In some, the eager grasping at pecuniary advantage was very conspicuous; and one I more especially remember—a London barrister—left on me an impression of greed such as we hear of in those round a Monte Carlo gambling table. The excursion itself, however, was pleasant enough; and it was not altogether unpleasant to be appealed to as an engineering authority: feeling, though I did, that my answers had intrinsically by no means the weight ascribed to them, but feeling, also, that they had perhaps as much weight as those of their engineer-in-chief. Not long subsequently came the gathering at Northampton of the staff of surveyors, and the apportioning of their various divisions to them. My own business immediately thereafter was that of making a trial-section of the proposed line.
Of the various sub-occupations into which the general occupation of a civil engineer is divisible, that of levelling is perhaps the most agreeable—at any rate in fine weather. As compared with surveying, it has the advantage that the strain on the attention is much less. During the carrying of the level from each station to the next by an attendant, there is a brief walk of one or two hundred yards or more; and the surrounding pretty scenery, if there be any, may be enjoyed. Adjustment of the level, a purely mechanical process made easy by practice, is quickly effected; the attendants, carrying the two staves, are soon made to perform properly their respective parts, if they are tolerably intelligent; and then the two observations—“back-sight” and “fore-sight” as they are called—severally taking but a few seconds, require nothing more than accuracy of perception and care in rightly putting down the results in the level-book. I see by a passage in a letter to my father, dated Leamington, 12 October, that practice had rendered me tolerably efficient.
“I sometimes level upwards of 5 miles in a day, and my levels have always proved within a foot in distances of 15 to 20 miles. In the last section I finished, the error was 0.35 of a foot in 15 miles, or about 4 inches.”
The day’s out-door work, beginning with a drive to the ground after breakfast, and ending with a drive back, or onward to the next stopping place, early in the evening, has but a small in-door addition. After a dinner made enjoyable by the moderate exercise continued through the day, there remains only half-an-hour’s attention to what is called “reducing” the levels—preparing the observations taken for graphic representation on paper, as a section. The rest of the evening is available for chat with a companion leveller, if there be one—made especially pleasant if he be a friend, as happened in this case. The fine autumn of 1845 yielded me in these ways many gratifications.
It was not in my nature to follow the beaten track in this out-of-door engineering work, any more than other work. Everywhere there is opportunity for improvement, manifest enough to those whose field of view is not narrowed by custom. It was so here.
In the course of preceding months—probably during my experience of the previous autumn—I had become dissatisfied with the ordinary mode of dividing levelling staves. It failed to meet sundry desiderata. The result was that before leaving town, I had busied myself in making two sets of papers divided after a new mode, to be fastened (glued and varnished over) by the maker on to the staves I was buying, in place of the ordinary papers: being obliged by shortness of time to sit up the greater part of one night to complete them. Explanations and drawings will be found in Appendix G.
Successful innovation of this kind soon led to one of another kind. Dissatisfaction with the ordinary process of “plotting” sections, prompted a little appliance for economizing labour and insuring greater accuracy. While in the country I could not utilize my plan; but, judging by the date of their bill, must have sent drawings to Messrs. Troughton and Sims with an order to make the instrument for me, and, during subsequent stages of the work in town, used it with advantage. Details are given in Appendix G.
With these small inventions which were put to use, may be joined the project of a more ambitious one which was not put to use. A solitary evening at the hotel in Stratford-on-Avon, was spent in thinking over certain defects in the ordinary type of “dumpy level” and in making sketches of an arrangement by which they might be avoided. When, subsequently, occasion favoured, I laid my plans first before one optician and then before another; but neither of them would agree to make a level of the proposed kind at his own risk, and, as the cost would have been probably some £20, I did not like to undertake the risk myself. The advantages of the design were sufficiently obvious; but the opticians I negotiated with had adverse interests which I did not at that time recognize, but which were, many years later, revealed to me in connexion with another invention. When a trader has a large stock of anything, it often does not answer his purpose to introduce an improved thing, which will discredit his stock and diminish its value.
Occasionally, during recent years, I have been prompted to get one of these improved levels made: being no longer deterred by the thought of cost. But continually decreasing energies, and the need for avoiding distractions, have prevented me. In Appendix G are contained sketches sufficient to make the plan comprehensible.
During those autumn months the railway-mania had gone on rising, and had spread into all classes. Even my father, not a man of business and living wholly outside the current of commercial affairs, had been, by a mercantile friend in Derby, induced to join in the general rush. A local project had been recommended to him, and, in response to his application, shares had been allotted. I heard of this step with disapproval, if not indeed with dismay, as witness the following extract from a letter dated 6 October:—
“I was, I assure you, by no means glad to hear that you had been meddling in this kind of speculation, which I think is exceedingly objectionable in several respects. I have wholly refrained from it myself, though I have no doubt, from my acquaintance with directors, I might have had shares allotted to me in the undertakings with which I am connected. I have refrained for two reasons; one because I have no faith in the bonâ fide character of the schemes now afloat, inasmuch as the majority of them are started merely for the purpose of creating shares to speculate in, and I do not think it altogether the thing to buy shares with no ultimate intention of keeping them, and only for the purpose of profiting by the premium to which they are expected to rise. My second reason for refraining from such speculation, is that I consider the share-market in so exceedingly unstable a state, in consequence of the circumstances to which I have alluded, that I believe it to be imminently dangerous to have anything to do with it. I am fully convinced that some panic will very shortly arise, the advent of which may be wholly unexpected and apparently causeless, and I would therefore strongly advise you to put yourself in a safe position by selling out at once. I assure you I shall be very fidgety until I hear that you have done so, for I should say, from what I know of the railway-accommodation of the district through which the Derby and Gainsborough line will pass, that it is one of the bubble-schemes to which I have been alluding and will never be carried out.”
To my father’s reply, not discoverable among my papers, the following response was sent:—
“If you do not feel inclined to sell all your shares at once, which I still strongly recommend, by all means sell half, as you propose. I assure you that none of these schemes can be considered safe. I do not speak without good grounds, for I have come in contact with many of the directors and promoters of them, and I know most certainly from their conversation, that their great, and I may say only, object, is to get their shares to a good premium and then sell out. So long as this is the general intent there is no knowing how soon the smash may come, for on the least alarm all will be wanting to sell and the shares will be at a discount.”
Then, in an undated letter, which, however, appears to have been written some days before the 20th, I wrote:—
“Very numerous orders are arriving in London from the country to sell railway-shares. This may very possibly lead to a panic, and if so your shares will go down to a discount. I think you had better sell out at once by all means.”
And on the 21st I expressed my satisfaction that he had promptly acted on this advice, and, as it appears, only just in time, for already the panic was beginning.
Referring to the feeling expressed in the first of the foregoing letters, I may properly remark that not only then, but ever since, I have acted upon the principle indicated. It is now nearly 50 years since the letter was written, and never, during the interval, have I bought shares or bonds save as permanent investments.
Often, during this interval, I have debated with myself the question whether any legislative restriction on the traffic in shares would be useful, and whether it would fall within those limits of State-functions which I have so strenuously insisted upon. It has sometimes seemed to me that since, for the administration of justice, contracts which are to be adjudicated upon are tacitly understood to be bonâ fide contracts, such that the property in question is actually, and not apparently, bought, it might not be improper if the law should refuse to recognize transactions in which the forms of buying and selling are gone through without any intention of taking real possession. Certainly the permission to allow nominal purchases to pass as though they were real purchases, leads to very great mischiefs and even to something like national disasters. But I have never been able to decide whether the implied check on transactions in shares would be theoretically legitimate or practically beneficial.
There now came a sudden change of scene, from the fields and fresh air of Warwickshire and neighbouring counties, to the streets and smoke of London. The occasion for this change is shown by the following letter:—
27, Wilmington Square, Oct. 16th, 1845.
You are to take charge of my office after this day—and for such you are to receive £4 os. od. per day (no expense) or £24 per week until 30th of November next from this day. After that date I will make fresh arrangements.
I am yours,
William B. Prichard.
A statement of my new duties, somewhat more specific than is here given, is contained in a letter to my friend Lott, written on the 30th of the month.
“I suppose you have heard it rumored in Wilmot Street that another temporary change has come over the spirit of my variable dream of existence. I have given up my field work for a more lucrative post which has been made over to me (in the same concern); the said post being that of general superintendent of the parties employed in getting up the plans of the several lines of railway of which Prichard is engineer. At present I have the plans of four lines to look after, and expect shortly to have those of another begin to come in. As you may imagine, therefore, I am considerably busy, and expect to work at a gradually increasing pressure until the end of November.”
Either of his own motion or at the instigation of those with whom he had connected himself, Mr. Prichard had undertaken, in addition to the scheme described above, sundry others more or less wild, to which I should now have had no clue but for the lithographed titles of them on letters dated from the office, 27 Wilmington Square. One was the “Erewash Valley Extension, Rochdale, Blackburn, and East Lancashire Railway Company.” Another was entitled “Great Western, Southern, and Eastern Counties, or Ipswich and Southampton Railway Company.” I remember too, though there is no headed letter giving its name, that there was a line from Grantham to somewhere, to which Mr. Prichard was to be “consulting” [!] engineer. The course of things during November will be sufficiently indicated by the following letter written home on December 2nd:—
“With great exertion we made our deposits on Sunday, and heartily glad I was that the termination of our labours had arrived, for I had never before experienced so anxious a week as the last. I was at work until 12 and 1 during the early part of the week; on Wednesday I did not go home until after 4 o’clock; and from that time until Sunday night I never went to bed at all. These arduous duties have, I am happy to say, had very little injurious effect upon me. On Monday I felt nothing unusual but a little languor, and to-day I am just as usual.
“I have, I believe, given great satisfaction by the efficient manner in which I have managed the work deputed to me. Sir John de Beauvoir, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, has authorized Mr. Prichard to pay me £20 in addition to my salary, in consideration of the value of the services I have rendered; and my name is further to be mentioned to the Board. . . .
“Towards the last, Prichard referred more and more to me, and in almost all cases acted upon my judgment; and, when he acted contrary to my advice as to the number of plans to be deposited [i.e., schemes to be persevered with], he was ultimately obliged, at the eleventh hour, to relinquish his intention, and in doing so lost all his courage and put everything into my hands.
“You may judge of the complication of the affairs I have had to manage, when I tell you that during the last week I had about twenty assistants, and that I had to look after the getting up of the plans for the following lines:—
“I think probable that Prichard will ensure the continuance of my services by offering me advantageous terms, and in such case I shall most likely remain with him to conduct the Bill through Parliament.”
In the days of which I am writing, envelopes had not come into general use, and the long-standing practice, which then survived, of so folding the sheet containing a letter that the address occupied a fold of its outer surface, had the advantage that the post-mark (when legible) fixed the date. Hence it happens that in many cases the outsides of letters show me when they were written, though the insides do not. In this way I learn that some ten days in London after deposit of plans having been occupied in business, I spent a few days at home: returning to town on the 14th December.
Poor Prichard had been intoxicated by his success in floating schemes: neither recognizing the fact that under the conditions which led to the mania anything might be floated, nor recognizing the fact that success in getting companies formed by no means implied success in carrying out their proposals, even to the extent of completing and depositing plans. As he has been dead these 40 years, and has left no descendants, I need not hesitate in saying that his course was like that of the fabled monkey, which, putting its hand into a jar of fruit, grasped so large a quantity that it could not get its hand out again. Had he been content with a single scheme he might have succeeded, but he seized more than he could go through with and defeated himself.
At what date, and concerning what matter, difficulties began to arise between him and the directors of the Northampton, Daventry, Leamington and Warwick Railway, I do not know; but early in December it became manifest that the board had lost confidence in him. This is indirectly implied by the first paragraph of a letter sent to me by the Secretary on the 13th.
“I am desired by the Board to request, that you will attend a deputation which will proceed to Daventry to attend a meeting appointed to be held there on Thursday morning at 10 o’clock.”
A letter to my father, written on the 17th, shows what course I took.
“I have just been with the Directors and am treated by them with great respect. They wished me to attend this meeting at Daventry as well as Prichard, but, as I explained to them that I expected this would offend him, they agreed only to require my presence in case of his absence.”
Probably he was not absent, for I do not remember attending the meeting. Though there is no written evidence verifying it, my impression is that the breach which was evidently beginning gradually widened; and, in fact, could scarcely do otherwise, since his failure to achieve much that he had undertaken could not be concealed, and of course caused profound dissatisfaction.
What happened during the next few months memory fails to tell me, and letters yield small means of supplying the place of it. Of course some needful business was being done, but the only trace of it is the mention to my father of an expedition to Warwick and Stratford, taking with me two draughtsmen, to examine, or make tracings of, certain deposited plans.
During the high-pressure days of the autumn, such small social life as I had was suspended. An undated letter to my father, which I infer was written about Christmas, contains the paragraph:—
“I dined yesterday evening with my friends the Potters, and I am to dine there again to-morrow. They told me that Mr. Heyworth had a very interesting account of our travellers in the United States. My uncle did not seem to have so much confidence in the American people as formerly. They have seen Emerson and do not like him at all. I am not altogether surprised at this information, for it seems to me that my uncle has not a sufficiently liberal spirit to understand all the kinds of great men.”
In explanation of this passage it is needful to say that, in the preceding summer, there had been planned an excursion to America, by my uncle and aunt and Mr. and Mrs. Potter, taking with them one of Mr. Heyworth’s sons, James. Eventually it was decided that Mrs. Potter was not strong enough to go; and the party dwindled down to three. During the tour my uncle gave numerous lectures—most of them, I suppose, temperance-lectures, but some of them anti-slavery lectures, which at that time it required some courage to deliver. His lowered estimate of the Americans may have been in part due to the unfavourable reception these lectures met with. That he should have been pleased with Emerson is out of the question; for his intellect dealt with things in the concrete almost exclusively, and even broad philosophical views, still more mystical views uttered in detached aphorisms (Emerson confessed that he could not make his ideas stick together), were foreign to his mind.
One other reference to social life is made. An evening in the middle of January was spent at the house of Mr. afterwards Dr.) Chapman, of whom more hereafter. William Howitt and his wife, at that time well-known as popular authors, are named as of the party; and he is described as a little robust man with a big head, which had struck me as remarkable before I knew who he was. The only further thing I remember about him was his remark that Keats would have been a greater poet than Shelley had he lived—a belief in which I suspect he was right.
Probably this remark was called forth by some laudation of Shelley uttered by me, for I still greatly admired him, as was shown soon after by a letter to Lott, in which I rejoiced that he was at length reading “Prometheus Unbound,” my especial favourite. This same letter contains a passage worth quoting, as being characteristic of my tastes, both then and afterwards:—
“I have seen nothing more of Carlyle’s Cromwell than is to be gathered from the reviews. As you correctly surmise, I have no intention of wading through it. If, after a thorough examination of the subject, Carlyle tells us that Cromwell was a sincere man, I reply that I am heartily glad to hear it, and that I am content to take his word for it; not thinking it worth while to investigate all the evidence which has led him to that conclusion. I find so many things to think about in this world of ours, that I cannot afford to spend a week in estimating the character of a man who lived two centuries ago.”
Concerning my reading in those days I will add one other paragraph, which in a measure emphasizes the foregoing, by implying interests of an entirely unlike kind.
“I have read a criticism on the work entitled ‘Kosmos’ in The Westminster Review, and I am going to read it when there is a new edition, which is to be published in two or three weeks. Judging by the quotations it seems to me that Baron Humboldt has a leaning to the ‘development theory.’ ”
This last remark implies that as far back as 1845, the general idea of organic evolution, espoused five years before, had become a subject of interest to me.
Some of the foregoing passages are from letters written to my father in French. That repugnance to language-learning which, at Hinton, led to final abandonment of the attempts to teach me Latin and Greek, was shown in the learning, or rather non-learning of this language also. I obtained at that time nothing more than a very imperfect acquaintance with the first parts of the grammar, joined with a few sentences from a phrasebook. Memory unaided would have led me to say that this very rudimentary knowledge was not added to until the spring of 1844; but among my papers I find the bill of a French teacher in Derby, showing that, when 21, I took half-a-year’s lessons, one per week; and then, during my stay in town while the Worcester and Wolverhampton bill was before Parliament, I submitted myself to the Hamiltonian system for a short time: having, as the charge shows, a dozen lessons. My constitutional idleness, joined with a special impatience of rote-learning, prevented persistence; and, in default of regular lessons, my teacher recommended easy French novels, to be stumbled through somehow. His advice was followed, and my further acquaintance with French was gained by a process of scrambling—reading some sentences and skipping those I could not make out: caring only to follow, as well as might be, the drift of the story. At the date of the foregoing letters I had recommenced these intermittent efforts: being prompted to do so by the intention of going to Paris as soon as disengagement permitted. A further measure was taken. There had at that time been established in the Strand a French reading-room, to which I occasionally betook myself to look through the French papers; and at my request the directrice agreed to find some Frenchman with whom I might arrange to speak French while he spoke English; but nothing came of the suggestion, and my studies soon ceased again. No grammatical knowledge of the language was ever acquired. As to the genders, I never even tried to remember them.
While a few of the letters utilized in this chapter are written in French, a large number of them are written in my father’s shorthand. Correspondence had been carried on in it in 1843, during my sojourn in London, and had, from that time onwards, been irregularly continued when I was long away from home: the final cessation, which presently occurred, resulting from my mother’s protest against a practice which debarred her from learning news of me when my father was out. Of the letters thus written during the latter months of 1845, two contain passages concerning the shorthand itself. The first is:—
“I have been making some enquiries about the price of glyphographing your shorthand and find that it would cost about £1 per page. I think it will be best to adopt lithography done neatly.”
And then, in a subsequent letter, there is a proposal which I had forgotten.
“I am getting very anxious that you should get your shorthand published, and if you will agree not to flinch in transacting the business part of the matter, I shall be happy to defray the expenses myself.”
But nothing came of this offer. At that time, as throughout subsequent years, my father’s tendency to postpone decisions of importance prevented anything from being done.
One other incident dating back to this period must be added. My interest in phrenology still continued; and thought, occasionally expended upon it, raised dissatisfaction with the ordinary mode of collecting data. Examinations of heads carried on merely by simple inspection and tactual exploration seemed to me extremely unsatisfactory. The outcome of my dissatisfaction was the devising of a method for obtaining, by graphic delineations, mechanically made, exact measurements, instead of the inexact ones obtained through the unaided senses. A description and drawings of the appliance I devised to this end will be found in Appendix H.
I return now to business matters. The first fact to be named is that a letter posted on March 22nd, 1846, says:—“We expect to go before Committee on Standing Orders this week with the London and Birmingham Extension. With the Warwick and Worcester we shall probably have another week’s waiting.”
Considering that success or failure in obtaining our Act was likely to determine the course of my life for some time, it is strange that the process of examination before Standing Orders Committee has left no recollections. The outcome, however, is clear. The plans did not pass the required tests, and no further stage could be entered upon. I knew that this result was tolerably certain, and wrote home to that effect. The over-pressure on all classes concerned in preparing for Parliament the multitudinous schemes brought out during the mania, unavoidably entailed imperfections unusual in numbers and degrees. Apart from any other cause, breakdown of the lithographers, whose various establishments were glutted with work which could not be properly executed, sufficed to entail a fatal quantity of defects. But, explanations aside, here was the simple fact—the project, or rather projects, collapsed.
This ending of the engineering campaign gave the signal for the opening of a legal campaign, in which I was to a considerable extent involved—not, indeed, in any case as principal, but in sundry cases as witness. During the succeeding four years at least, Mr. Prichard carried on suits against one or other company; and, now at Lewes, now at Westminster, and now in the chambers of an arbitrator (Mr. Keating, afterwards judge) I gave evidence on his behalf: subpœnas pursuing me hither and thither, often to my annoyance and loss. What the final outcome was I do not remember distinctly; but I infer that there must have been a decision which gave to Mr. Prichard and his staff, or some of them, a portion if not the whole of their claims: my inference being drawn from the fact that the sum of some £80, due to me for services as witness before Standing Orders Committee, was, after a further delay of some years, paid under the Winding-up Act.
With this failure of Mr. Prichard’s schemes ended my career as a civil engineer. Save during an excursion into Cornwall early in 1847, along with sundry old engineering friends of Birmingham and Gloucester days, who had been commissioned to take “check-levels,” in preparation for opposing the Central Cornish Railway, I had no more connexion either with railway projects or with the execution of projects which had been authorized. Nor did I thereafter enter into any other branch of engineering work.
Should I have made a good engineer had I continued in the profession? The answer is doubtful: in some respects Yes, in other respects No. In so far as inventiveness goes I was adequately endowed, and might have succeeded; though it seems not improbable that inadequate regard for precedent might have entailed compromising mistakes. Much patience is required to learn all that has been done in each field of engineering; and, lacking such patience, I might have come to grief from neglecting the guidance of registered experience. Then, too, the aversion to mere mechanical humdrum work, of which civil engineering, in common with most occupations, involves a good deal, would have stood in the way of advancement. Financial details, altogether uninteresting to me, would most likely have received insufficient attention. An incident which occurred when I was on the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, acting as engineering-secretary to Capt. Moorsom, suggests this belief. A Russian engineer had been sent over officially to examine our railways, and was being taken round the country by Mr. Vignolles, an engineer of repute in those days. Capt. Moorsom sent me as cicerone. One of Mr. Vignolles’ questions concerned the amount per cubic yard which our “ballast” of burnt clay cost. I was unable to tell him, and there resulted an expression of contempt on his face: such knowledge being reasonably considered by him as part of an engineer’s mental equipment. Another deficiency I recognize as one which might have prevented any great success—my lack of tact in dealing with men, especially superiors. In most occupations, and especially engineering, advancement depends rather on pleasing those in authority than on intrinsic fitness. The more capable man who is disagreeable has a much smaller chance than the less capable man who makes himself pleasant. Neither in my engineering days nor at any other time, did it ever enter into my thoughts to ingratiate myself with those above me. Rather I have ever been apt, by criticisms and outspoken differences of opinion, to give offence; and I doubt not that this trait would have stood in my way.
But whether I should or should not have made a good engineer was never to be decided. Fate ordered that the experiment should not be tried.
A fit commencement to this chapter necessitates recurrence to an incident belonging, in order of time, to the last chapter. In a letter dated Leamington, 13th October, 1845, there is a sentence which runs:—“I am anxious to accumulate as much as I can for the purpose of putting myself in a position to take out a patent.”
The proposed patent concerned a scheme of quasiaerial locomotion: not a “flying machine” properly so called, but something uniting terrestrial traction with aerial suspension. There had, during some previous months, been much public attention given to a flying machine proposed by a Mr. Henson or Hanson,—I think that was the name. Representations of it were common in shop windows; and even pocket-handkerchiefs were stamped with them. The essential idea was that of an inclined plane propelled through the air by a motor engine carried on its back—an idea which has recently been revived by the celebrated American inventor, Edison; whose proposed use of it, however, is, if I remember rightly, limited to the carrying of explosive missiles over an opponent army and dropping them into its midst. There is, of course, nothing to be said against the theory; but against the application of it there is much to be said.
To me it then seemed, as it seems still, that no such appliance (supposing it otherwise successful) could carry the motor engine and motor power required for a long flight. Even liquid carbonic acid, losing much of its energy by self-refrigeration in becoming gaseous, must fail quickly unless supplied with heat. Adopting the general idea of an inclined plane moving at a high velocity, and supported by the upward pressure of the air reflected from its under surface, my scheme, suggested by the action of a kite when drawn through still air by a boy running, was to attach the ends of the inclined plane, by iron-wire cords, to an endless wire-rope passing over “sheaves,” as they are called, such as were then used on various lines of railway and are still used on some tramways. Further, my proposal was that, instead of a single inclined plane, which inevitably would oscillate violently from side to side, there should be two inclined planes meeting in the middle, as do the lateral faces of a properly made kite. Theoretically, such a structure might be drawn through the air at a velocity such that the upward pressure would support it, and support also the weight of seated passengers on its upper surface; and the questions were—whether, by stationary engines moving the endless rope, such velocity could be given, and whether fit arrangements for starting and alighting could be devised. During the spring of 1846 I spent some thought on this mode of locomotion, and interested in it my new friend Mr. Potter. A letter to my mother, dated from 2 Lloyd Street, Lloyd Square (which had continued to be my address since the migration to town in October, 1845). contains these paragraphs:—
“On Saturday last I dined at Mr. Potter’s in company with two M.P.’s—Bright and Brotherton. Cobden was to have been there but could not come.*
“Since then I have, at Mr. Potter’s particular request, explained to him my system of locomotion, with which he was both astounded and pleased. He seemed to feel greatly interested, and immediately entered upon the question of making the experiment and what it would cost, and quite gave me the impression that he would be ready to assist.”
In pursuance of a promise then made to consider the matter in detail and let him know the result, I, in the course of the summer, made some calculations which altogether dissipated my hopes. At each start from a station, the machine would have to be otherwise supported until the velocity given to it had become great enough to yield adequate aerial support; and I came to the conclusion that the strength, and therefore the weight, of the wire-rope required to give it the needful velocity within any reasonable space, would be impracticably great, and that the cost of giving it this velocity every time would be prohibitory. Referring to this calculation, Mr. Potter, in a letter of August 18, wrote:—
“I really was concerned to hear of the untoward conclusion of your hopes, and I confess I agree with you that the difficulty you have stated does seem insurmountable, and is just of that practical kind that would in the first instance escape the calculations of a very stern theorist, as indeed I have always looked upon you.”
It did not occur to me that there might be used an endless rope constantly in motion, and admitting of being clutched by the apparatus every time of starting; but any one may see that this, too, would be impracticable for various reasons, and that there are sundry insurmountable obstacles in the way of the plan.
Until there became manifest to me the fatal difficulty above named, I was seriously taking measures to carry out the scheme. Correspondence shows that, after the rejection of our bills by the Standing Orders Committee about the middle of May, and after failing to get a settlement of my claims for services before the Committee, and after spending the latter part of May with my uncle at Hinton, and after abandoning the idea of a trip to Paris for a few weeks, I occupied myself to some extent in preparations for obtaining a patent—preparations, however, which were, both in June and the early part of July, several times interrupted by subpœnas demanding my attendance as a witness on behalf of Mr. Prichard in his suits against the companies.
During the two months in which these miscellaneous occupations constituted my business, there was something else going on, not to be called business, but yet more important in its ultimate issue than business commonly so called. I began to make myself better fitted for writing the book I contemplated. At what time was formed the resolution to set forth my views on political ethics, is uncertain; but during those early months of 1846, I commenced a course of reading in furtherance of my project.
What the course of reading was there is no clear evidence. I obtained from Mudie’s Library, which, as before said, was then a thriving infant in Southampton Row, books which bore in one way or other on my set purpose—books, however, which did not bear upon it in the most obvious way. For I paid little attention to what had been written upon either ethics or politics. Partly this was due to my impatience of reading in general (excluding, of course, light reading), which has always made the getting through a grave book a difficulty; and then upon this general difficulty there arose a more special difficulty—the inability to continue reading a book from the fundamental ideas of which I dissented: a trait exemplified in a preceding chapter. Hence it happened that in this case, systematic works of a political or ethical kind, written from points of view quite unlike my own, were either not consulted at all (their reputed doctrines sufficing to warn me off); or else they were glanced at and thereafter disregarded. The books I did read were those which promised to furnish illustrative materials. For though by some I am characterized as an a priori thinker, it will be manifest to any one who does not set out with an a priori conception of me, that my beliefs, when not suggested a posteriori, are habitually verified a posteriori. My first book, Social Statics, shows this in common with my later books. I have sometimes been half-amused, half-irritated, by one who speaks of me as typically deductive, and whose own conclusions, nevertheless, are not supported by facts anything like so numerous as those brought in support of mine. But we meet with men who are such fanatical adherents of the inductive method, that immediately an induction, otherwise well established, is shown to admit of deductive establishment, they lose faith in it!
Explanations and reasons apart, however, the fact here to be noted is that in the early summer of 1846, I began to prepare for my first book: having, at that time, no idea of making authorship my occupation.
To the mention of these preparations for my first book, should be added something about the motives which prompted it. Further reflection had made me dissatisfied with the letters on The Proper Sphere of Government—dissatisfied, not so much with the conclusions set forth, as with the foundations on which they stood. The analytical tendency has begun to show itself. What was the common principle involved in these conclusions? Whence was derived their ultimate justification? Answers to these questions had become clear to me; and it was the desire to publish them that moved me to write.
Another account of its origin was given by my father to one who, many years later, was inquiring about it—one unknown to me in the days of which I speak, but whose name will appear frequently in the narrative of my later life. My father admired greatly an ethical work called Essays on the Principles of Morality by Jonathan Dymond, a Quaker—a work having much merit, but setting out with the assumption, held in common by Quakers and most other Christians, that the declared will of God is the only possible standards of morals. As implied in a passage describing discussions at the age of 24, I already felt, in a vague way, that there must be a basis for morals in the nature of things—in the relations between the individual and the surrounding world, and in the social relations of men to one another. Hence I had, it seems, spoken of Dymond’s Essays disparagingly. According to the account of the friend above referred to, I went so far as to say that I could write a better book on the subject myself; and my father, piqued by this disrespectful treatment of a book he thought so highly of, said sarcastically that I had better try. According to his statement, the writing of Social Statics resulted from my responsive determination to make the attempt.
I have no recollection of all this; but it is not improbable that I expressed myself in the way alleged, and that my father may have uttered the challenge. Indeed, it seems certain that some such incident occurred. But that it originated Social Statics I do not think. The dissatisfaction above described was, I believe, the prompting motive; though it is possible that my father’s sarcasm served as an additional spur.
The greater part of August was passed at Derby, and it was there I made the calculation which led to the abandonment of my rather wild scheme—though one perhaps less wild than schemes for aerial locomotion in general. But before the end of the month there occurred to me the idea of something which, as results proved, came within the region of practicability.
This was a little apparatus I called a “binding-pin.” Its purpose was that of fixing together the sheets of musical pieces which occupy several pages, and also the sheets of weekly periodicals—the Athenæum, Spectator, and others similarly shaped. The music or journal being opened out in the middle, these binding-pins, being thrust on to it, one at the top of the fold and another at the bottom, clipped all the leaves and kept them securely in their positions; and, when afterwards taken off to be again used for a like purpose, they left the paper uninjured. A drawing and description will be found in Appendix I.
Not very long before, there had been passed an Act intended more especially to give security for Designs, but which, proving to be more widely applicable than its title implied, served to cover small appliances the uses of which depended entirely on their shapes. I decided to take advantage of this system of registration, and, going to London forthwith, went through the requisite legal forms on the 2nd September. Correspondence during the succeeding two months shows how numerous were the difficulties to be surmounted, and how complicated the transactions to be gone through, before even a very simple invention could be brought to bear. There was first the discovery of some mode in which the binding-pin might be cheaply manufactured; and only after trying sundry pin-makers and hook-and-eye makers, did I succeed in finding one who, by modifying a hook-and-eye machine, succeeded in producing it with sufficent facility: an achievement, by the way, which implied much greater ingenuity than did the appliance itself. Simultaneously, there had to be carried on negotiations with wholesale stationers or kindred traders who should, one or other of them, undertake the supplying of retail stationers and music-sellers. There is mention of three competitors for the purchase of the invention. Then, after the lapse of two months and a subsequent absence from London, there comes the account of an agreement with the firm of Ackermann & Co.—not the existing firm, but one which at that time occupied the building now occupied by Rimmel the perfumer. Satisfactory arrangements for manufacture and sale having been reached, sundry further preliminaries required attention. The pins must be presented to the public in an attractive form. I had to make an ornamental design for a card on which they might be mounted; and, having done this, to get the engraving and printing of it in colours undertaken. Still another obstacle had to be overcome. Putting the pins on the cards by the unaided hand would have been tedious and costly; and I had to devise a little apparatus which rendered the fixing of them an easy process—an apparatus which, like the machine for making the pins, implied much more thought than did the pin itself.
All complications, mechanical, legal, and commercial, having been got through, the appliance was brought out in the name of Ackermann & Co. (for I did not like to give it my own name), and met with considerable approval. Had the sales continued to be anything like what they were at first, they would have yielded me a revenue of some £70 a year; but after the first year they fell off and presently ceased. I supposed the fault to be with Mr. Ackermann who was a bad man of business, and who, failing not long afterwards, shot himself; but information gained in recent years has led me to ascribe the result to that insane desire for novelties which, in all save articles almost indispensable, leads to the neglect of a known thing, however satisfactory, and a demand for the last new thing: whether better or not than a thing already in use being a matter of indifference.
Some twenty years ago, samples in a stationer’s window showed me that someone had attempted to revive the use of this appliance; but the samples were ill made, and I do not wonder that nothing came of the attempt.
Had it not been for memoranda found among my papers, no mention would have been made of a certain highly-speculative enterprise into which my friend Jackson and I at one time thought of entering—thought only in a half-serious way, however. That it originated about the period here dealt with there is no proof. My conclusion that consideration of it is referable to this period, results from failure to find any other in which it could have occurred.
We often discussed art-matters: he as being an amateur artist, and I as being interested in art. We went to picture-exhibitions together, and our judgments were generally in accord. From criticisms on pictures we sometimes passed to criticisms on decorations; and in our condemnations of many of these we were, in like manner, usually at one. Might it not be a possible thing to set up a systematic manufacture of designs for textile fabrics, printed or woven, as well as for paper-hangings and the like? Could there not be a methodic use of components of designs, so that relatively few ideas should, by modes of combination, be made to issue in multitudinous products? And could not this be so done that draughtsmen, under superintendence, might produce them with facility: the system serving, as it were, not as a physical kaleidoscope but as a mental kaleidoscope. Some notions were, I see, set down, giving a partially-concrete form to the plan. But, as I have said, the speculation was only half-serious, and nothing came of it.
I mention it here chiefly for the purpose of introducing an accompanying thought respecting the nomenclature of colours. The carrying out of such a scheme would be facilitated by some mode of specifying varieties of tints with definiteness; and my notion was that this might be done by naming them in a manner analogous to that in which the points of the compass are named. The subdivisions coming in regular order when “boxing the compass,” as it is called, run thus:—North, North by East, North-North-East, North-East by North, North-East; North-East by East, East-North-East, East by North, East. Applying this method to colours, there would result a series standing thus:—Red, Red by blue, Red-red-blue, Red-blue by red, Red-blue (purple); Red-blue by blue, Blue-red-blue, Blue by red, Blue. And in like manner would be distinguished the intermediate colours between Blue and Yellow and those between Yellow and Red. Twenty-four gradations of colour in the whole circle, would thus have names; as is shown by a diagram I have preserved. Where greater nicety was desirable, the sailor’s method of specifying a half-point might be utilized—as Red-red-blue, half-blue; signifying the intermediate tint between red-red-blue and red-blue by red. Of course these names would be names of pure colours only—the primaries and their mixtures with one another; but the method might be expanded by the use of numbers to each: 1, 2, 3, signifying proportions of added neutral tint, subduing the colour, so as to produce gradations of impurity.
Some such nomenclature would, I think, be of much service. At present, by shopmen and ladies, the names of colours are used in a chaotic manner—violet, for instance, being spoken of by them as purple, and other names being grossly misapplied. As matters stand there is really no mode of making known in words, with anything like exactness, a colour required; and hence many impediments to transactions and many errors. In general life, too, people labour under an inability to convey true colour-conceptions of things they are describing. The system indicated would enable them to do this, were they, in the course of education, practised in the distinguishing and naming of colours. If, by drawing, there should be discipline of the eye in matters of form, so there should be an accompanying discipline of the eye in matters of colour.
There is mention, in the last section but one, of an absence from London which occurred before my arrangements for bringing-out the binding-pin were effected. This absence was caused by a visit into the West of England. Writing to my father on 30th October I said:—
“The letter you forwarded was from Mr. Potter, and contained a very kind invitation to go and spend a week or ten days with them in Herefordshire. I enclose it.”
Upper Hamilton Terrace, where their house in London was situated, had proved insalubrious; and Mrs. Potter, who was showing signs of delicacy, had been recommended to spend the winter in a drier climate. The place fixed upon was Gayton Hall, in the valley of the Wye, not far from Ross, amid scenery sufficiently picturesque. Here, as the Americans say, I had a good time. The place was 14 miles from Gloucester, which had occasionally to be visited; and this fact had, I fancy, been Mr. Potter’s excuse for setting up a tandem. We had sundry not-altogether-safe rides in it. Then there was a ride to the ruins of Goodrich Castle, for which, being little used to riding, I paid the ordinary penalty next day. Once, too, I joined Mr. Potter in a ramble with our guns about an adjacent tract, the shooting over which went with the Hall, but which, from lack of a keeper, yielded no birds. And I remember, also, accompanying my friends to a dinner with Mr. Herbert, the County-Court Judge at Ross, with whom, nearly a generation after, there occurred a mutual recognition as we were playing a game of billiards together in London. Chiefly, however, I recall the great amount of discussion carried on indoors during my stay. Mrs. Potter was scarcely less argumentative than I was, and occasionally our evening debates were carried on so long that Mr. Potter, often playing chiefly the rôle of listener, gave up in despair and went to bed; leaving us to continue our unsettleable controversies.
This visit, which ended in the middle of November, I thus particularize because it was the first of a series too numerous to be recorded, which continued throughout the subsequent forty years.
Why I went to Derby from Gayton I do not understand; for pending business-arrangements appear to have demanded my presence in London. The mention of my return to Derby serves, however, to introduce a passage of some significance, contained in a letter from my father to my uncle, dated December 16, after I had again been carried off to London to give evidence for Prichard. It runs as follows:—
“I showed Herbert that I was a good deal concerned as to the notions he appears to be deriving from the reading of Emerson; but he said very little, and conducted himself in a very much less dogmatical way than on some former occasions. I hope that when the pride of his intellect is a little more subdued, he will be more likely to attach importance to the usual evidences given in support of our faith. How do you bear such attacks? They affect my spirits exceedingly. Mr. Mason [a dissenting minister] and he had a lengthy argument one day lately, in which I confess Herbert displayed much more coolness than I have previously given him credit for, considering the mortifying manner that Mr. Mason has.”
On this passage the only remark it seems needful to make concerns the supposed influence of Emerson. This my father over-estimated. My rationalistic convictions (at that time far more exceptional than they would be now) had been slowly and insensibly growing for years: being, as already intimated, caused by perception of the radical incongruity between the Bible and the order of Nature. Such writings as those of Emerson and Carlyle served simply to present to me my own convictions under other aspects.
At my old quarters, 2 Lloyd Street, Lloyd Square, I spent the last few weeks of the year 1846 and the spring of the next. A string of extracts from letters will show what I was about. The first of them, however, is of earlier date—18th September; but I have reserved it for use here because it conveniently introduces the quotations from subsequent letters.
“I have ordered you some of the gutta-percha, which they promised to send down in a week—not having any ready. I saw a number of new applications of it at the office—it is certainly a most extraordinary material. It appears that the Company are intending to work the patents by granting licences, and state that in a few weeks they will have specimens of all its applications ready. Before deciding about the shoe affair I shall wait and see these.*
“I find I am a day after the fair in my invention for raising water. It has just been patented—the specification being enrolled as lately as the 11th ultimo. Clarke, Freeman, and Varley are the patentees, and my plan is included amongst a variety of others.
“The Potters are not yet returned from Liverpool. Jackson is out of town and I am dreadfully off for want of society. One week since I have been here, I did not speak to a friend from Monday to the Sunday following.
“There is nothing whatever stirring in the engineering world, and I see no cause to alter my determination to proceed with a patent. The only question is which.”
To my father, late in December, I wrote:—
“The planing affair looks well. . . . Jackson has finally joined me and we are now busy with a model.
“The current number of the Noncon. contains an article of mine—‘Justice before Generosity.’ Miall being away, they got me to write for them.”
Along with the excursion into political literature here named, should be named an excursion into scientific literature, which was made in January or February, 1847. This took the shape of an essay on “The Form of the Earth, &c.,” the purpose of which was to show that however good may be the evidence of the earth’s original fluidity, the evidence commonly drawn from its oblate form is not good. This essay was published in The Philosophical Magazine for March, 1847, and will be found in Appendix J.
A letter of February 21st, first speaking of the before-mentioned excursion into Cornwall and “afterwards a week of the old work at Westminster” (life in Committee-rooms and their lobbies), goes on to speak of the already-made small model of the planing engine; and on March 10 comes the information—
“We are about to proceed at once with the patent for the planing engine. Our friend Bishopp—a good and unbiased judge [he had been engineer of locomotives on the B. and G. Railway], thinks the performance of the model very favourable; and we do not mean to run the risks of further delay.
“We intend if possible getting a full-sized engine made before the specification is entered.”
Then on 11th April, after naming a further stage, I named also a totally different matter of much more interest as judged by ultimate issues.
“The patent has been opposed but no harm has resulted, as it appeared that there was no interference. Another fortnight will now I believe complete the matter.
* * * *
“I have now collected together a large mass of matter for my moral philosophy and it is beginning to ferment violently. I shall commence writing as soon as I get down to you. Among other aids to good style I have been compiling a kind of dictionary of memoranda for illustrations, figures, and similes [of which I never made the slightest use].”
And now came interruptions, pleasant and unpleasant, as shown by some lines from my uncle to my father on April 20.
“Herbert had been with us from Thursday last till yesterday (Monday), when a messenger came from London to take him back to give evidence on a trial respecting Mr. Prichard. We were much disappointed at having so soon to part with him, but we are to have him again at Midsummer to finish his visit.”
The patent having been taken out and the needful drawings made, negociations were entered into for the making of a complete machine at Derby. This caused me to go home in the middle of May.
One of the incidents which shortly followed was a temporary return to political activity. Sundry foregoing passages have shown that I had seen a good deal of Mr. Lawrence Heyworth, and that our views were in large measure congruous. A bye-election was about to take place at Derby; and, thinking that Mr. Heyworth would be a good representative, I talked the matter over with sundry leading Liberals in the town, and busied myself in obtaining signatures to a requisition to him. Though the proposal met wth considerable approval, nothing at that time came of it. But when, not long afterwards, a general election took place, this action of mine, futile when taken, had its effect. His name and opinions had been made known in the town; and the result was that certain local chiefs of the Liberal party requested me to telegraph to him, to inquire whether he would receive a deputation. I did so. The deputation went; he became a candidate; was elected; and thereafter sat for a number of years as one of the Members for Derby.
This was not the only direction in which my energies were partially diverted from immediate business. A letter of July 11th to my father, who was away for his vacation, indicated the commencement of my intended book.
“I am getting on pretty well with my writing and find the being alone advantageous in making me apply. I do not yet, however, make rapid progress, being very anxious to make a good start in respect of style.”
But of course my chief energies were daily devoted to getting made a full-sized planing engine of the proposed kind. Various difficulties were met with, and various difficulties were overcome, and various delays had to be patiently borne. Here let me attempt to convey some idea of this proposed apparatus. Place an ordinary dinner-plate on the table, and suppose that a circular hole is made in the table large enough to let the plate sink through, but that it is stopped before its edge quite disappears below the table’s surface. Suppose, now, that this earthenware plate is replaced by a steel plate, which has a cutting edge instead of a round edge, and which is almost flat, or, in other words, somewhat “dished”; but which, similarly, has its sharp edge very slightly projecting above the level of the table. Now further suppose that such a steel plate, much larger than a dinner-plate, is fixed on a vertical axle carried above and below the table, and that power applied to this axle, makes the steel plate revolve at a considerable velocity. Then it is manifest that when a plank, thrust against the plate on one side of the axle, meets the cutting edge, there will be taken off a shaving, which will descend through the narrow space left between the edge of the plate and the surface of the table. And obviously a plank thus thrust against a rotating edge will have a shaving taken off more easily than were it thrust against a stationary edge.
All through July and August the undertaking was hopefully prosecuted, and then it was brought to an end in an utterly unexpected manner. My friend Jackson, as I have intimated, had joined me in carrying out the invention, and had contributed his share to defray the cost of the patent—about £150 I think the cost was. But now a change of career on his part broke up our arrangement. To my great dismay, about the end of August I got a letter from him saying that he had been offered some civil engineering post in India and that he had accepted it. There went from me a letter of expostulation, and from him there came a reply expressing regret. But there was no help for it—the step had been taken.
Thus ended the enterprise; for I did not feel able to prosecute it by myself. Neither means nor energy would have sufficed. Very possibly, however, this seeming catastrophe was a blessing in disguise. Supposing that all the mechanical difficulties had been overcome, as they might have been, there were still the business difficulties; and a wider experience of men and affairs leads me to suspect that these might have proved insurmountable.
An omitted incident must here be named. Just before the change which proved fatal to my scheme, came my first acquaintance with mountain scenery. An excursion to Scotland had been planned by a party of four—my friend Lott, one who presently became his brother-in-law, Lingard, another friend of ours named Fuller, and myself. Some time about the beginning of August we left Derby; and our absence lasted a fortnight. Already in 1847, tourist facilities had been developed to a considerable extent throughout the West. There were steamers on Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine; a coach from Inverarnon over the Black Mount through Glencoe to Ballachulish; a line of steamers running backwards and forwards between Inverness and Oban; and another line through the Crinan Canal to Ardrishaig and Glasgow. It is needless to say much about our doings. There still remains a memory of the delight with which I gazed on the mountains at the head of Loch Lomond as we approached them by steamer, and the awe with which, later in the day, some of the more rugged and precipitous masses we drove past inspired me. The only adventure worthy of note was the ascent of Ben Nevis; and this, chiefly because of an accompanying physiological experience, which, joined with one received three years previously, was instructive.
Our ascent was made from Fort William. As we were approaching the summit our guide pointed out a train of ponies and pedestrians coming from Bannavie, and told us that the party consisted of Prince Waldemar and his attendants. After we had been at the top some time, enjoying the views now on this side and now on that, as the clouds lifted to disclose them, these foreign visitors arrived on the top also. Prince Waldemar, a handsome, vigorous-looking, and pleasant man, had in his suite two whom I remember—a Count Oriola, and, oddly enough, a Baron Munchausen: so at least we understood the names. Having unpacked their luncheon, they hospitably invited us to partake. We had already eaten our sandwiches, but were not unwilling to add some glasses of wine to the whisky we had imbibed in the course of our ascent—a bottle among five, the guide and ourselves.
The upper part of Ben Nevis consists of a long slope of loose rocks, large and small, standing at the somewhat precipitous angle which a débris of such masses naturally assumes. When we commenced going down, I found myself possessed of a quite unusual amount of agility; being able to leap from rock to rock with rapidity, ease, and safety; so that I quite astonished myself. There was evidently an exaltation of the perceptive and motor powers. On thinking over the matter afterwards, I was reminded of a parallelism between this experience and one above referred to. This had occurred when making the trial-section named in the last chapter. All day I had been hard at work taking levels between Warwick and Alcester, and was anxious to reach a certain “benchmark” before it became too dark to see. Just when beginning to fear I should not succeed, we passed across a turnpike road (from Stratford to Birmingham, probably) close to a public-house. Being very thirsty I went into it for a glass of ale, and, finding my thirst not slaked, took a second. Shortly after resuming my levelling I was struck with the remarkable expertness of my operations. One or two movements of the level-legs brought the bubble almost right, and a touch or two of the set-screws made the adjustment perfect, as though by magic.
Here, then, were two cases which, unlike in other respects, were alike in the respect that a considerable amount of alcohol had been taken along with, or after, an extreme amount of exercise. Now alcohol has two physiological effects. Primarily it stimulates the nervous system, and, in that way, exalts the functions at large; but, secondarily, it diminishes the rate of exchange of gases in the lungs, and, by so doing, tends to diminish the functional activity. Rather deficient as I am in development of the respiratory system, and consequently having a rate of exchange of gases somewhat lower than it should be, the ordinary effect of alcohol is sedative only: the beneficial effect on the nervous system is out-balanced by the adverse effect upon the respiratory system. But in those two cases, long-continued exertion having caused unusually great action of the lungs, the exaltation produced by stimulation of the brain was not cancelled by the diminished oxygenation of the blood. The oxygenation had been so much in excess, that deduction from it did not appreciably diminish the vital activities.
After recognizing the varying proportions of these conflicting actions, we understand why in one person alcohol exhilarates and in another enervates; and why in those of the first class a certain amount produces exhilaration and a further amount enervation.
The second week in September found me in London again. The purposes of my journey were to see Jackson before he went to India, and then, while attending to some pending matters of business, to look around.
Steps were taken to increase the sale of the binding-pins. It appears, too, that sundry further schemes occupied my attention—one an improvement in the type-making machine named some chapters back, and others which also remained mere speculations. While part of my time was spent in negociations concerning inventions, another part was spent at the British Museum library, in search of materials for my book. It appears, too, that the composition of the book was continued; for, after a time, there is mention of some thirty pages of MS. of the Introduction being sent to my father, with a view to criticism by him. Meanwhile my daily life was not to my liking, as witness the following paragraph written to Lott, dated 42, Holford Square, Pentonville, 11th October:—
“I am quite alone—have not spoken to a friend for this week past—and am more moped than ever; so that you can hardly expect that I have any news to tell you. Engineering is of course desperately bad; and, were it not that the binding-pin answers very well, I should be in a quandary. I shall be very glad to see you here whenever you can get away.”
A little later came a brief episode. My uncle Thomas had long been wishing to free himself from the ties of his pastorship at Hinton, that he might have a larger sphere of usefulness. Frequently, if not generally, he was away from home during the week, lecturing or attending meetings (chiefly, but not wholly, in furtherance of the temperance movement), at one or other place, often remote; and habitually returned on Saturday night that he might give his two services on Sunday. And now the desire to resign his incumbency was suddenly accentuated by a burglary at the parsonage. That after the many good things he had done for the people of Hinton during his twenty years of residence, such an event should have happened, disgusted him greatly—perhaps somewhat unreasonably; for there was no proof that the robbers belonged to his parish. When he announced his decision to leave there came a memorial from all the leading parishioners urging him to remain; but, while he recognized the force of their address, it did not alter his mind. This crisis took me to Hinton. From my uncle to my father on the 25th went the information:—“Herbert is here and is very well. I hope he will stay till my departure, as he will be very useful in giving advice.”
With my return to London soon after, and my return to Derby not long after that, came to an end the various schemes which had occupied me during the preceding year and a half—time, and energy, and money, during that period having been simply thrown away. What came to me in the shape of proceeds from the binding-pin, just about served to recoup me for my share of the cost of the planing-machine patent; and the expenses of living and travelling which had meanwhile been incurred, were of course so much loss. My experience is, I suspect, very much the experience of most who have tried to make money by inventions. Non-success, due now to unforeseen mechanical obstacles, now to difficulties in obtaining adequate pecuniary means, now to infringement of patent rights, now to unfair treatment by a capitalist, is almost certain to result. Probably it is not too much to say that there is one prize to fifty blanks.
Shortly after the incidents above chronicled there came a second visit to my friends at Gayton. Whether it took place before I returned to Derby, or whether I went to Gayton and thence to Derby, I do not feel clear; but I think the last. I remember nothing about the visit further than my failure to aid in the rectification of a water-ram supplying the house, which was continually going wrong.
At home, during the winter and succeeding spring, there was resumed that miscellaneous and rather futile kind of life which had on previous occasions been passed there. I have no letters of this period serving to refresh my memory. Probably I was occupied every morning with further chapters of my proposed book. Then, weather permitting, there came the afternoon rambles in the country, during which the subjects I was dealing with occupied my thoughts. Relaxations were much what they used to be—meetings for glee-singings; evenings spent with Lott and his family; meetings of our Literary and Scientific Society; occasional attendances at lectures; and now and then a game at chess.
Things went on in this way until April, unvaried by any incident save the before-mentioned election of Mr. Heyworth as Member for Derby, in which I took part.
What was to be done? I was now 28 years of age, and all that had passed since I was 21, had left me stranded again. The intervening seven years, which should have given me a settled career in life, had, after sundry ups and downs, ended without result. Partly this was my own fault, and partly not. At the beginning of this period I had thrown myself off the rails, and in the course of it had twice been thrown off the rails by no failure or deficiency of my own; and what other futile efforts I had made had implied unwisdom rather than inability. But now what was to be done?
In the course of the spring, emigration was suggested, as witness a letter to my uncle dated Derby, 10th April.
“Mr. Potter during his late stay in Derby (where he came to assist in Mr. Heyworth’s canvass) said so much in praise of New Zealand as almost to make me feel inclined to go there. There seems so little chance of making way in England, especially under the present depressed state of things, that one feels almost ready to take any step rather than wait longer for the turn of the tide. I own, however, that I should have great difficulty in making up my mind to leave the civilized world; more particularly as I feel that I can render some service by remaining in it.”
Another thought which arose was that of reverting to the ancestral profession. A dozen or more years previously, a Dr. Heldenmaier had set up, somewhere to the north of Derby (I fancy it was near Worksop, in Nottinghamshire) a school conducted on the Pestalozzian principle—a kind of English Hofwyl. He had occasionally called on my father, and the neighbouring presence of his establishment was a fact familiar to us. Might it not be possible for my father and myself to do something similar; not, indeed, to carry out the principles of Pestalozzi in particular, but to initiate an advanced form of education? For the linguistic teaching, masters might be employed; while the teaching of the sciences—mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, &c.—we might carry on ourselves. Our views on education were quite in accord; in both of us the powers of exposition were greater than usual; both had abilities to interest pupils and concomitant interests in them. The idea was discussed; not, however, with much faith in its practicability. Some correspondence with my uncle took place concerning it, and there arose the question—might not Bath, or some place between Bath and Bristol, easily accessible from the two places, be a desirable locality? A preliminary test was suggested. Would it not be well to see what demand there was for science-teaching in that neighbourhood; and, to this end, might I not make the experiment by giving lessons, not in mathematics only, but also in engineering-drawing, perspective, and the like: so discovering whether there would be an adequate response?
It was decided that at any rate it would be well if I were to visit my uncle, who had at that time taken a house in Bath (6, Ainslie’s Belvedere), where, while inquiries were being made and opinions gathered, I might renovate my mathematics, which, during the preceding dozen years, had grown rusty. On April 23rd, just as my 28th year was closing, I left home to see whether yet another career might be commenced. Letters between that date and the 11th May, contain discouraging reports. Bath, then rather at a low ebb, was peopled largely or chiefly by retired Anglo-Indians, military and naval officers on half-pay, and the widows and children of such; and, as might have been known beforehand, the field was one unfavourable to anything beyond the ordinary humdrum education. Very soon it became clear that not only the larger enterprise but even the more modest enterprise would be hopeless, and before the middle of May the idea dropped through.
The trait, common to children’s stories and fictions of ancient type, the characters in which, positively good or positively bad, are represented as eventually reaping the rewards of goodness and the punishments of badness, is a trait pervading nearly all ethical speculations, as well as current conceptions about life at large. Always we hear dwelt on the evils which vice brings, while the evils which virtue often brings are practically ignored. The tacit assumption is that “poetical justice” will in one way or other be done; notwithstanding daily proofs that the wicked often thrive and meet with no reverses, while the worthy often pass their lives “in shallows and in miseries,” and occasionally bring on themselves disasters by their righteous conduct.
In my uncle this crude notion that merit and demerit always bring their normal results, which Job’s friends expressed thousands of years ago, took the form of an unqualified belief in the sufficiency of self-help—a belief that if a man did not succeed in life it was his own fault. This belief, early formed, had been greatly strengthened by the wide experience which many years had yielded him of paupers and pauperism. The multitudinous cases in which misconduct and distress stood in the relation of cause and consequence, shut out of view the cases in which distress arose without misconduct. He had in fact come entirely to ignore good fortune and bad fortune as factors in human life. Doubtless he would have admitted that, without any fault of his own, a man may be knocked on the head by a chimney-pot on a windy day, or be injured for life by the accident a runaway cab-horse entails on him, or contract a fever, constitutionally very injurious if not fatal, by travelling in an infected railway-carriage; but he did not recognize the truth that in the social world, as in the physical world, there occur catastrophes for which the sufferer is not responsible, and other catastrophes implying no greater defect in him than misjudgment or lack of experience.
He was now suddenly awakened to this truth by the loss of a large part of his property, consequent upon an uncritical acceptance of representations made to him. All through life he had had a horror of speculation; chiefly caused by contemplating the losses his brothers had suffered from entering into the lace-manufacture in the days of its sudden prosperity. But one result of keeping clear of all business-dangers was that he failed to learn where business-dangers lie. In a measure he illustrated, by antithesis, the Shakespearian saying that “out of the nettle danger we pluck the flower safety.” Never having nettled himself by running small financial risks, he did not know the aspects of financial risks, and unawares ran into a great one.
When he gave up his incumbency he decided to reinvest his property and that of my aunt, which had, up to that time, been in the funds, yielding but 3 per cent. It seemed clear to him that he might safely obtain a higher percentage. Out of the many railways projected during the mania, the South Wales Railway was one which had something like a sound mercantile basis. Parliamentary authority had been obtained; and, at the time I speak of, the works were in progress. It was put before the world as being guaranteed 5 per cent. interest by the Great Western Railway Company. The guarantee seemed ample to my uncle, and doubtless to most others. The long reaction which followed the mania continued, and railway-shares in general were greatly depressed: sound properties as well as unsound properties being affected. Hence it seemed, as was represented to him by the secretary of the South Wales Company, that shares in good undertakings would be certain presently to rise, and that he would profit by buying more shares than he could eventually hold, and selling some to pay the calls on the rest. This advice he acted upon: taking a like step, too, in respect of the guaranteed shares in another railway.
Only after these transactions had been effected did they become known to me; and the knowledge of them, when I received it, alarmed me much. I was sufficiently acquainted with the financial arrangements of such undertakings to feel sure that the Great Western Company had not given to the South Wales Company an unconditional guarantee of 5 per cent. on its stock; but that this guarantee was limited to a specified capital, which was alleged to be sufficient to make the line. Further, I felt sure that in this case, as in most, if not all, cases, the estimated cost would fall short of the actual cost, to some extent and probably to a great extent; and that, consequently, the sum forthcoming as interest on the specified capital would not suffice to pay 5 per cent. on the actual capital. A further obvious inference was that, since business-men would recognize this limitation of the guarantee, the shares would not rise as represented; but would remain depressed, if, indeed, they did not fall.
During the period of my visit these conclusions and anticipations were being verified. Part of his shares my uncle had to sell at a lower price than he gave for them, that he might meet the calls on the remainder: a ruinous process common in those days, which, from time to time repeated, was figuratively compared to feeding a tiger with legs of mutton.
In the course of our conversations I expressed the opinion that the value of the investment must in great measure be determined by the ratio between the estimated cost of the line and its actual cost; and that if evidence could be obtained that the difference would not be great the prospect might be hopeful.
Soon after the middle of May I left Bath for London: two motives prompting the journey. One was a desire to pursue the inquiry just indicated. My uncle got, from the secretary of the South Wales Company, an authority to inspect the plans and sections, for the purpose of enabling me to form a rough idea about the sufficiency or insufficiency of the estimate. With this authority in my hand I went to Mr. Brunel’s offices; and, after I had produced it, a subordinate in the drawing-office put the plans before me. While I was looking at the sections, Mr. Brunel himself came into the room. He inquired who the stranger was. On being told, he came to me, and, after demanding my business, asked in an angry way whether I could judge the sufficiency of the estimate by inspecting the sections. My reply was that I did not expect to do anything more than see whether the works were of ordinary or of extraordinary magnitude, and whether, from the general aspect of them, it might be inferred that the cost per mile would or would not be greater than usual. Thereupon he went away in great wrath at the implied scepticism respecting his estimate; though he must have been well aware that scepticism was in every case well justified. Concerning the result of this inspection no memory remains; nor do I find any letter telling my uncle of the impression left on me.
Here let me seize the occasion for saying something about the distribution of honours, common in England. Many years ago I saw a drama the subject-matter of which was the discovery of printing, and the burden of which was:—“Honour to whom honour is not due.” Mr. Brunel’s career might fitly be instanced to show that this is frequently the way of the world. Setting out from a place of vantage, as being “the son of his father,” he first became famous by the introduction of the broad gauge, which was eventually extended over 1,450 miles, at a cost in extra works of four and a half millions. After serving for half a century to cause, by break of gauge, great waste of time, labour, and money in the shifting of goods, probably entailing a further loss of a million or two, the broad gauge has been abandoned. Then there came the Great Eastern steamship. In raising the capital for this, the financial tactics of Mr. Brunel led my friend Mr. Potter, who was one of the original board, to resign; and the history of the vessel was a history of commercial failures, until the final breaking up of it some years since: further large losses being thus entailed on shareholders. Yet again, there was the adoption, on an extensive scale, of the atmospheric system of traction; the apparatus for which was laid down by Mr. Brunel on the South Devon line at a net cost of £360,000—more capital thrown away; for after a lengthened trial the system had to be given up.* And then, on a successful achievement which brought him credit—the Saltash bridge—there has to be made the comment that it was in part not his but that of my friend Mr. Hughes, whose method of founding bridges in deep waterways, personally carried out by him at Mr. Brunel’s request, rendered the bridge a possibility.
For having thus done much work which had to be undone, wasted many millions of national capital, and entailed great losses upon multitudes of citizens, Mr. Brunel was knighted and is commemorated by a statue on the Thames Embankment!†
The other, and doubtless the chief, purpose of my journey to London, was to look round again with the view of finding something to do. Railway-enterprise being for the time stopped, engineering was almost out of the question, and a literary engagement seemed the only possibility. A letter written home on May 22nd speaks of things in prospect. One was a forthcoming interview with “Mr. Cassell, the proprietor of a new weekly journal about to be started shortly.” A succeeding sentence speaks of a change in the proprietorship and literary staff of The Daily News, as likely to take place; and a subsequent letter, referring to this, says:—
“I had hopes of making an engagement on The Daily News which Gilpin, the publisher, had had offered to him, and had some thought of taking, but he has unfortunately for me changed his mind.”
But, as viewed in the light of subsequent events, the most important passage in the above-named letter of 22nd May, was the following:—
“My uncle gave me a letter of introduction to Wilson, the editor of The Economist. He treated me very civilly and invited me to tea at his house on Saturday evening. I saw there a very interesting French lady—the Comtesse de Brunetière—who is a daughter of Tallien, one of the notables of the first French Revolution. She is intimately acquainted with all the leading politicians of Paris and gave us some very curious details of the late events. Mr. Wilson told us that she had prophesied the leading events of the late revolution two months before they occurred.”
It seems well here to name the circumstances under which Mr. Wilson, originally engaged in trade, had come into the position he now occupied. The Economist had been established by the Anti-Corn Law League as a propagandist organ, and, as usually happens with new papers, had, I believe, after entailing for a length of time large losses, disgusted those who furnished the money: making them ready to part with it at a great sacrifice. Mr. Wilson, who had written a work on The Influences of the Cornlaws, and was, I presume, in intimate association with the leaders of the league, and probably had already furnished editorials and other literary material to The Economist, saw in it the making of a successful journal. Under what conditions the transaction was effected I do not know; but the paper had come into his hands as both editor and proprietor. He worked on it indefatigably—living at The Economist office to devote his whole time to it; and, being a man of good business judgment, sufficient literary faculty, and extensive knowledge of commercial and financial matters, soon made it an organ of the mercantile world, and, in course of a relatively short time, a valuable property. Meanwhile, though at what time I do not know, he had been elected member of Parliament for Westbury; and, subsequently, he had been appointed Secretary of the India Board, or Board of Control—a government department which had for its function to supervise the doings of the East India Company, then still existing. He had thus risen in a short time, by sheer force of ability and energy, to a position of considerable wealth and influence. Concerning a subsequent call upon him, which occurred some three weeks later, a letter home says:—
“I had a long interview this morning with Mr. Wilson, M.P., who manifested some interest in my proceedings and inquired how I should like a sub-editorship to a London weekly paper. This was put in such a manner as to lead me to suppose he referred to The Economist. Our interview ended with his requesting me to leave my address with him, with the understanding that he would write to me if an opening should present itself.”
On the first, or on the second occasion, I gave to Mr. Wilson a copy of my pamphlet on The Proper Sphere of Government, with the general tenor of which he expressed himself in sympathy, though making qualifications. Possibly the sum which seemed thrown away over the republication of the letters to The Nonconformist, was not after all thrown away.
The middle of June found me once more at Derby—once more reverting to my unprofitable life: unprofitable, that is, in a pecuniary sense. I had, indeed, made an engagement to write a leading article weekly for the new paper above referred to, which was to come out under the assuming title of The Standard of Freedom; but it was not yet launched, and even had it been launched the proceeds of one article per week would not have sufficed to meet my expenses in London.
Though I had forgotten the fact, letters show that I did, after this paper started, contribute some articles: one of them, I see, entitled “Tu quoque,” being applauded by my uncle Thomas. But the writing of these accounted for only a small expenditure of time during the autumn. My time was chiefly expended over some chapters of my intended book. These now possessed me a good deal. There were many rambles through the fields in deep thought about them; for my thinking was then, as always, done largely, if not mainly, while walking. The mental absorption, thus caused, was not altogether harmless. There were some disturbances of health which later experience led me to interpret as having had a nervous origin. Repugnance to long-continued attention, which has been one of my traits throughout life, is possibly due to the fact that my nervous system gives way under strain sooner than most do. That aversion to monotony of every kind, which was named in a previous chapter as an organic trait, appears to be illustrated both in the impatience of those repetitions of an effect which exhaust a particular part of the nervous system, and in the inability of the nervous system as a whole to bear persistent action of one kind. I suspect that the peculiarity is at root a physiological one—a want of tone in the vascular system. The vessels lose too soon their normal contractility under stress, and then fail to carry on nervous repair at a rate which keeps pace with nervous waste.
No further memories concerning those autumn months of 1848 remain with me; save, indeed, of some pleasant excursions. There had by that time been established in Derby, as in many other places, a Saturday-afternoon holiday, and the Midland Railway Company had, as a consequence, set up a Saturday-afternoon excursion train which was utilized by all classes of the townspeople, and carried them at low fares into the picturesque parts of Derbyshire. Among the few pleasures which the time yielded me, were expeditions with my friend Lott and the ladies of his family into one or other of the Derbyshire dales; where, after more or less of scrambling and enjoyment of the picturesque, there came, before returning home, “a tall tea” at some primitive inn.
Inspection of correspondence, however, disclosing various forgotten letters, makes up in part for missing recollections, and furnishes me with one passage well worth quoting. After only about a year’s absence, Jackson had returned from India: his engagement having, in some way I do not remember—probably abandonment of the undertaking with which he was connected—been brought to an end. He was again adrift in London; and once more seeking for something to do. In a letter written soon after he came back, he moralized thus:—
“I have thought much of matters, perhaps not so deeply as you have nor with such a metaphysical mind, but one thing has struck me as regards yourself, namely, that you who have much brighter intellect and stronger powers of mind do not succeed so well in general as others far your inferiors. And why should it be so? I believe in a great measure because you oppose your views to others too directly. I have done so also, and have suffered in proportion. We should follow the stream as far as we can without any breach of principle, keep any peculiar views we have to ourselves, and endeavour to please and be pleased with every thing or person we meet or see. As regards our own happiness, we are more likely to increase it this way; and certainly we are more certain of making friends, which should be an object kept in view. . . . Perhaps you will say it has nothing to do with business, but it has, for when you differ from others in opinion upon any topic, it induces an unfriendly feeling and eventually the acquaintance is broken off.”
When the self-criticisms which close Chapter XVIII were dictated, the existence of this passage was unknown to me. On discovering it I was of course struck by its agreement with what I had said. When a man’s opinion of himself coincides with the opinion held by his most intimate friend, there cannot be much question about its truth.
And now, after five months of uncertainty, there came the offer I had been led to expect. I cannot recall my state of mind; but naturally, after so long a delay, it was not a very hopeful one; and I had become so inured to disappointments that probably I looked forward to another with calmness. It is not in my nature to be greatly elated or greatly depressed; and I suppose this constitutional equanimity was displayed at the time there reached me the following letter:—
“Fontainville, Westbury, Wilts,
I am in receipt of your note of the 13th. The situation now vacant in The Economist Office is that of Sub-Editor, which, while it requires a regular attendance at the office, does not impose heavy duties. You would have a room to yourself, and considerable leisure to attend to any other pursuit, such as preparing a work for the press, especially from Friday night until about Wednesday in the following week. At first the salary would be one hundred guineas a year. If you were disposed to live on the premises you could have a bed room and attendance free. The messenger and his wife live there, and I used to sleep there when my family was out of town, and they attended on me.
“If I found that you could contribute leading articles there would be an additional allowance.
“The vacancy has existed for some time (it has been temporarily filled), and as I have about seventy applications for it—to none of which I have replied—you will please say by return of post if you feel inclined to take it, and if so I will appoint a time for you to meet me in town.
“I am, dear Sir, yours truly,
H. Spencer, Esq.
Though the salary offered was low, yet the accompanying advantages practically raised it to a respectable amount. Evidently, accommodation which Mr. Wilson found good enough for himself when his family was away, would be good enough for me; and when to free residence were added free attendance, fire, and lights, the total would practically amount to something like £150. Then, too, the offer of extra pay for leading articles, if I wrote them, added something; though I had no thought of taking advantage of this possible source of more income. The light work and abundant leisure which characterized the post, formed to me a further attraction; for would not the progress of my book be greatly facilitated? No reason for hesitation presented itself, and I forthwith accepted.
There remains to be noted here a remarkable coincidence. For a short time in 1844, I undertook the functions of sub-editor; and now again in 1848, I undertook the functions of sub-editor. In each case the editor under whom I worked was a Scotchman. In each case the name of this Scotchman was Wilson. In each case the name of this Scotchman was James Wilson. It is doubtless true that Wilson is a rather common Scotch surname, and James a very common Scotch Christian name; but still it is strange that I should have stood in exactly the same relation to two men who were alike in nationality, in surname, and in Christian name.
Thus an end was at last put to the seemingly futile part of my life which filled the space between 21 and 28—futile in respect of material progress, but in other respects perhaps not futile.
There had been, during those years and four preceding years, a varied intercourse with men and things. In surveying and levelling, in making drawings for railway works, and in discharging the functions of secretary and sub-engineer, my first engineering period was passed. After this came a time of scheming and experimenting—mechanical, chemical, electrical; and a time during which there was some artistic cultivation in drawing, modelling, and music, as well as some pursuit of natural history: a time, also, of public political activity, as well as political writing, broken by brief efforts to open for myself a literary career. Then followed a second engineering period, bringing me in closer contact with the preliminary business of railway-making; joined with the exercise of some authority, as the regulator of assistants and supervisor of plans. There was thus afforded me, along with increase of technical experience, increased experience of men—a further increase of this last experience being brought by entanglement in law-suits. Next came the period distinguishable as that of inventions—successful and unsuccessful, but chiefly the latter. This extended somewhat further my physical knowledge, as well as my knowledge of life, its difficulties and its ups and downs; which last was added to during the subsequent period of suspense. In short, there had been gained a more than usually heterogeneous, though superficial, acquaintance with the world, animate and inanimate. And along with the gaining of it had gone a running commentary of speculative thought about the various matters presented.
Though I have called this acquired knowledge superficial, which in one sense it was, it was in another sense not superficial. There was commonly shown a faculty of seizing cardinal truths rather than of accumulating detailed information. The implications of phenomena were then, as always, more interesting to me than the phenomena themselves. What did they prove? was the question instinctively put. The consciousness of causation, to which there was a natural proclivity, and which had been fostered by my father, continually prompted analyses, which of course led me below the surface and made fundamental principles objects of greater attention than the various concrete illustrations of them. So that while my acquaintance with things might have been called superficial, if measured by the number of facts known, it might have been called the reverse of superficial if measured by the quality of the facts. And there was possibly a relation between these traits. A friend who possesses extensive botanical knowledge, once remarked to me that, had I known as much about the details of plant-structure as botanists do, I never should have reached those generalizations concerning plant-morphology which I had reached.
It should be noted, too, that the natural culture effected by direct converse with the world around, had been accompanied by little artificial culture; and this little not of a rigorous kind. I never passed an examination; nor could I have passed any such examinations as are commonly prescribed. In Euclid, algebra, trigonometry, and mechanics, I might have done fairly well, but in nothing else. How far did this lack of academic training affect the ultimate result? The very conception of training, as carried on in the past and as still carried on, implies a forcing of the mind into shapes it would not otherwise have taken—implies a bending of the shoots out of their lines of spontaneous growth into conformity with a pattern. Evidently, then, a mind trained, in the ordinary sense of the word, loses some of its innate potentialities. Doubtless in most cases the potentialities are of little account; and such improved capacities as academic discipline produces, are without set-off in the form of lost originality. But in some cases the knowledge gained is of less value than the originality lost. The soul of evil in things good is everywhere shown by the defects which accompany superiorities. On the one hand, though academic discipline gives a certain fulness of information and readiness to use it in ordinary ways, it diminishes the ability to use information in ways which are not ordinary. On the other hand, while the absence of academic discipline leaves greater freedom of mind, it leaves also a liability to mental action unguided by adequate acquaintance with facts. To the intellectual nature, as to the moral nature, restraint yields benefits with drawbacks; while liberty also yields benefits with drawbacks. In my own case the advantages which intellectual freedom confers seem to have outweighed the disadvantages.
But now this period of miscellaneous activities, and spontaneous development of mind, terminated. Sometime in December, 1848, I left Derby for London: there to commence the journalistic duties which, in course of years, led, step by step, to my special business in life.
[Note.—After I had given the order to stereotype these pages, but before the order had been executed, I glanced through a biographical sketch of the celebrated engineer, John Ericsson (based on accounts given by Mr. W. C. Church), and in it met with the following significant passage:—
“When a friend spoke to him with regret of his not having been graduated from some technological institute, he answered that the fact, on the other hand, was very fortunate. If he had taken a course at such an institution, he would have acquired such a belief in authorities that he would never have been able to develop originality and make his own way in physics and mechanics.”
The reading of this reminded me of a no less significant passage contained in the report of an interview with Mr. Edison, a self-educated man, and probably the most marvellous inventor who ever lived. My impression is that I cut out this report, or the relevant part of it, but, as often happens in such cases, cannot now find the extract. Any hesitation I might have felt in citing Mr. Edison’s evidence from memory, is removed on finding, as I now do, that my memory is verified by that of another. This evidence was to the effect that in his establishment college-bred men were of no use: the men who had not passed through the approved curriculum were better. Another piece of evidence, scarcely less startling, has occurred to me now that I am setting down these two. Sir Benjamin Baker, who designed and executed the Forth Bridge—the greatest and most remarkable bridge in the world, I believe—received no regular engineering education.
These facts, which I had not in mind at the time I wrote the foregoing section, yield confirmation of the inference drawn in it. This inference, presented in its most general form, is that the established systems of education, whatever their matter may be, are fundamentally vicious in their manner. They encourage submissive receptivity instead of independent activity.]
[*]With the history of this brief engagement, may here be joined mention of an instructive incident, which occurred nearly half a century later.
[*]Here it must be explained that soon after I left Mr. Fox in 1837, he gave up his post as resident engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway (London half) and entered into partnership with Mr. Bramah (either the inventor of the hydraulic press or his son, I don’t know which), at that time carrying on extensive mechanical engineering works. The new firm, Bramah and Fox, extended its operations to works of other kinds. Bramah shortly afterwards ceased to be a member of the firm, and at the time above spoken of it had become Fox, Henderson, & Co.
[*]Mr. Potter’s father had been Member for Wigan in the first reformed Parliament, and had been intimate with the leading Radicals.
[*]At that time gutta-percha was a recently introduced material from which much was hoped. This reference to it suggests an extreme instance of perversity in the uses of names; implying something almost like ingenuity in going wrong. When first imported, gutta-percha, though like india-rubber the inspissated juice of a tree, was seen to be conspicuously different in sundry ways. Its colour is a light chocolate; it does not yield to slight pressures; it is inelastic; it is softened by moderate heat, and can then be rolled into sheets—all traits in which it differs from india-rubber. The only manifest point of community between the two is that both are soluble in coal-naphtha. But, strange to say, easily discriminated as they are, they have become so confused in the public mind that their names have partially changed places. Now that the uses of gutta-percha are inconspicuous, its name has in numerous cases usurped the place of the name india-rubber: the majority of people refer to various india-rubber articles as made of gutta-percha!
[*]The figures given in this paragraph are based on information furnished me by the secretary of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
[†]When the Saltash bridge was opened there appeared in The Times for 4th May, 1859, a laudatory account of it, praising Mr. Brunel for the skill with which the difficulties of founding the bridge had been overcome. Feeling indignant that my old friend should be thus defrauded of the credit due to him, I wrote a letter to The Times stating the facts of the case, and, in proof, referred to some independent evidences. One of them was that in recognition of his invention, described in a paper read to the Institution of Civil Engineers (see Vol. X of their Journal), Mr. Hughes was awarded the Telford medal (see Vol. XI, 1852). But though at that time my name was not quite unknown, and though I gave verification, my letter was not published. It was the policy of The Times never to admit an error. That a man should be robbed of the honour due to an important invention, was a matter of small consequence compared with the disclosure of a mistake made by The Times reporter!