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In spite of all my philosophy, the remembrance of the enactment of Waterloo Bridge twelve hours before came stealing over me, conjuring up a thousand chances of another unpleasant rencounter, and exciting strange sensations. There was little choice between returning and going forward; whichever way I strolled, I was dependant on the advice of those beings in the midst of whom I found myself; and by reason of mistakes in gaining my ultimate point, I could not have walked less than two miles for one.
At last I arrived under darkness so considerable, that the keeper of the entrance was burning his lamp at mid-day to keep his books. “ Are there any visiters here to-day?" I asked. “ Two men have just gone down, and you will find a waiter at the extremity of the tunnel."—“Two men !” I had paid my entrance before I received this answer, and in any other circumstances I should not probably have regarded it. But I had been long enough in England to have learned, that English servants are very nice in distinguishing between “men” and “gentlemen,” and that they rarely mistake or call one for the other. It was two men !” It was evident enough that he was not likely to be crowded with company on such a dismal day. I must therefore take my chance with what was before me—“two men,” whom I could not avoid encountering at some point.
Can any one wonder that I should think of the last night? Absolutely, from what I had passed through in a half hour previous, it seemed as if hosts of barbarians were planted between me and the civilized world; and who could know what these “two men" might be ? Besides, what favourable hour and circumstance for a conspiracy! No one there knew me; I knew not them; no friend in the world knew I had gone there ; and the day itself was as dark as the darkest thoughts. Notwithstanding,
having received my instructions, I began to descend the shaft round and round, descending and descending, having left the little light of a dark day behind, and meeting only in one place a faint and glimmering taper, just enough to make the darkness visible. After feeling and poking and stumbling along-down the stairs—I found myself at last at the bottom, which was sixty feet deep. The stairway leading down is a crude framework, and the region around was impenetrable darkness.
Arrived at that place, I ought to have been prepared for one of the most imposing and attractive visions which the art and labours of man ever created, especially in such circumstances. The moment I had landed upon the firm earth below, from the winding stairs, and cast my eye upon the perspective of that long and apparently interminable vista of subterranean masonry, finished and vaulted in the most perfect and beautiful curvilinear forms, and lighted up in the
whole distance by blazing lamps suspended from the side, and imparting the most enchanting effect to the eye, it seemed another world. I stopped a moment to think of the floods rolling above it, and of the ships floating upon their bosom; and here, underneath them all, and undisturbed, the one and each unconscious of their relations to the otherhere is this peaceful, quiet, incomparable vision! all existing at the peril of all! I hesitated-looked listened. And as I listened, I heard a whisper! a very whisper! Again a whisper! a frequent whisper! Horrible!
I stood at the moment in the midst of darkness at the bottom of the shaft, surrounded, enveloped with darkness ! The assault of the previous night was play to this! Again a whisper! a tormenting whisper! It was earnest-impassioned! and it was near enough to lay a hand upon me! It seemed at my ear! but nothing visible but darkness. A freezing chill ran through all my veins. Backward I could not go, for I could not see the foot of the stairs, which I had left behind. I was buried from the world and from day; all seemed infernal. And as if the , whisper were not enough, there was a whisper laugh! a burst! the very laugh of demons! I sprang forward to the beginning of the tunnel, and of the row of lamps, and stopped. Still the whisperings followed me, and the stifled laughter! but I now stood under the lamps; could look around me ; but I heard no tread-I saw no form of man or demon.
In looking forward, however, I saw the forms of men in the farther extremity; and I hastened to join them, preferring their society and their protection, whatever it might be: and all the way the whispering and laughing voices, louder and more earnest, followed me.
As I had been certified, I found the “ two men,” and the waiter sitting in a recess smoking his pipe. They were at the end of the finished part of the tunnel, under the middle of the river; the man with the pipe sitting at his ease, and answering such questions as we put to him. While engaged in colloquy with this interpreter of the mysteries, I cast now and then a furtive glance on my society, to satisfy myself whether I should prefer their company out, or again to encounter those demoniacal salutations alone. I chose the latter, for they proved to be “men” of savage looks; and turning carelessly on my heel, affecting the airs of indifference, I walked leisurely back for a little; then quickened my step, as I observed they did not accompany me; I hastened on, and found myself among the whispering voices again ; rushed through the darkness to the foot of the stairs, and most luckily met them at the first touch. In another moment I was at the top.
When, however, I found myself safe in the regions of day, or where day ought to be, I paused to think of the scene
I had just witnessed, and of the perils, real or imaginary, which I had there encountered. I philosophized upon the whisperings and voices, and came to this very philosophical conclusion: That the tunnel in its condition at that time was a whispering-gallery, which has been proved to be a fact. Those “men” and the waiter at the further end were little aware of the startling and appalling effect which their talking and bursts of laughter produced on me, as the echoes rolled along, and floated past my ears, while I stood at the base of the shaft, enveloped in darkness.
I could not be aware of the impression made on my feelings, by the assault the night previous on Waterloo Bridge, till I came to this place. But having been the subject of that so recently; and now, after such a tedious, dark, loathsome, and exciting way of access, to find myself alone in those infernal regions, with just light enough to make the darkness visible; to see dark caves (in the second unfinished archway, parallel to the first) opening their yawning mouths, without reporting what might be there; to hear those voices and whisperings, coming from invisible talkers, and now and then a laugh, horrible and fiendly, as it seemed, all made strange by the strangeness of the circumstances, was not, I confess, particularly agreeable. The emblazoned vista of the tunnel was not a charm sufficient to charm away the effect of these horrible salutations.
Having got safely out, I threw myself into a wherry; and by the aid of oars and a rapid flood tide, shot through the midst of the shipping lying in the Thames, and soon found myself ashore at the London Bridge.
I have visited the Thames Tunnel once since in a clear day, and found the shaft light enough from without to observe all its parts. This shaft is 60 feet deep and 50 in diameter. When the river broke into the tunnel by accident, it filled in four and a half minutes within six feet of the top of the shaft, giving only that time for all the workmen to escape, who were caught under the bed of the Thames near its middle, 500 feet from the shore. Six of them were drowned, and two more have perished there by other accidents. The tunnel has already cost something less than £200,000. Government have lately pledged £250,000, as a loan for its completion, and the work is recommenced. It will probably cost nearly, or quite, £1,000,000.
This novel undertaking was projected by Mr. Brunel. It is intended to form a communication between Rotherhithe and Wapping, by means of a passage under the Thames, and will certainly, when completed, be one of the most extraordinary constructions of ancient or modern times.
The tunnel consists of two brick archways; and in order that there may be no obstruction to carriages, those going
from north to south will pass through one, and those from south to north through the other. These passages are paved or macadamized, with convenient sidewalks for footpassengers. In the centre, between the two archways, and dividing the two roads, is to be a line of arches, spacious enough to admit of persons passing from one road to the other, and in each of these arches a gas-light. The approaches to the entrance of the tunnel are to be formed by circular descents of easy declivity, not exceeding four feet per hundred feet; one of small dimensions for pedestrians, and another larger for carriages. The descent is so gradual that there will be no necessity to lock the wheel of the heaviest-laden wagon. The first stone of the descent for pedestrians on the south side of the river near Rotherhithe Church, was laid March 2, 1825. That portion of the tunnel which is completed, is open daily to visiters on payment of one shilling each.
Dimensions of the Tunnel.-Length 1,300 feet; width 35 feet; height 20 feet; clear width of each archway, including footpath, about 14 feet; thickness of earth beneath the crown of the tunnel and the bed of the river, about 15 feet.
In the neighbourhood is a curious specimen of Mr. Brunel's ingenuity, being the segment of an arch of 100 feet span, built without centring.
The feasibility of this project is demonstrated; and certainly it is a very sublime one for so low a place. Crowds of people will one day pass through it safely in carriages and on foot, with fleets of shipping floating over their heads !
A STRANGER in the city of London, who might happen to be passing up Skinner-street towards Cheapside, and arriving at the cross-ways, in one angle of which stands the Church of St. Sepulchre, near Smithfield, would probably be struck with the appearance of an extraordinary, rough, sombre, heavy, and apparently impregnable wall, which turns the farther corner on his right, running far down the street towards Ludgate Hill, and stretching a few scores of feet along the way himself is pursuing. It is lofty—it is without windows and without doors, except in one or two places, which have somewhat the aspect of an entrance to some stronghold.
Or if he happen to be going the same way at fifteen minutes past eight o'clock in the morning, looking down on his right, he will perhaps see two, or three, or half a dozen
human beings, hanging by the neck to a beam thrust out for the occasion from this wall; and many thousands of spectators literally crammed and piled into every inch of space, which might afford a view
of these suffering victims, as they struggle with death for offences lighter, probably, than the conscious guilt of half the multitude who are looking on.
This wall is Newgate Prison; and the open space in front of it is commonly called the Old Bailey.
By the politeness of a friend, I was introduced to the governor of this prison, as an American gentleman, desiring the privilege of admission to inspect the internal forms and economy of the place.
“Sir, we have nothing to compare with your prisons in America,” said the governor; “but, with great pleasure, we will show you what we have.”
In a moment a keeper answered the bell-string, and was ordered to show us the prison-a pleasant and intelligent man to look upon, and apparently also of good feeling. He at least understood his duty, and was evidently at home in the place. We passed from the governor's office into the apartment next the street and leading to the prison, through which prisoners are committed, or make their exit for the gallows, or transportation, or being set at large. It happened at the time we passed (and there is probably no hour of the day when something of the kind is not doing there), that two policemen had brought in a fellow to be recognised, as having been there before, being accused of a fresh offence of some kind. It was decided that he had been there, but it was doubtful whether he came as a prisoner, or the friend of a prisoner.
“Give him the benefit of the doubt, then," said the keeper, who seemed to be appealed to as judge," and let him go.' All this seemed very reasonable, I thought, and humane, if the prisoner was merely suspected. I had afterward occasion to remark how much the fate of prisoners, committed for trial, depends on character. To have been there, or in any other prison before, is a bad mark.
We passed first into apartments tenanted by females, committed for trial under charge of various offences. The female prisoners, I understood, were most of them from among the bad women of the city. As we entered their rooms, passing from one to another, they were at their meals. They were evidently taken by surprise; they all rose; some of them courtesied, and remained standing while we were there. The countenances of some were good-even pleasant. There were old persons, middleaged, and young. They did not seem particularly anxious not to be seen--and yet they were subdued and chastened in their manners, so much so as to excite a feeling of interest and of benevolent compassion.