Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX.: INVENTIONS. 1846—47. Æt. 26—27. - An Autobiography, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XIX.: INVENTIONS. 1846—47. Æt. 26—27. - 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 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.
[*]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!