Abbildungen der Seite

funds for fishery purposes which are raised in any district, that the anglers' licenses have created a much larger sum for the above-named purposes than the licenses for cruives and nets. The anglers, then, should get a fair share of the salmon ; for, as we have shown, they not only personally prevent poaching to a great extent, but also provide a Fery large fund for paying bailiffs and constructing passes over millweirs. We expect that the rights of all will be regarded, and in a few years rivers in which salmon and sea-trout are now indeed rari pisces will be well stocked. The angler will then joyfully wield his rod which he had for years laid uselessly by. His eyes will again be gladdened with a sight of that silvery fish which he deplored as nearly extinct.

But such a halcyon state of things is not to be expected without much opposition from the monopolists, which must be met by energy and perseverance on the part of the reformer; nor can he expect without ceaseless agitation to recover for himself the enjoyment of that innocent amusement from which he has been long debarred by unjust and one-sided legislation.



"The Life of George Stephenson" has a twofold interest: a personal interest, far exceeding that of ordinary biographies; and a social interest of peculiar importance, inasmuch as it exemplifies the efforts and achievements of mechanical invention in connexion with the establishment of railways. Few men, in modern times, have had a more remarkable career; and it has been the fortune of scarcely any to have a more competent biographer. Dr. Smiles has executed his undertaking with consummate skill

, and such complete success, that it is not easy to conceive how it could possibly have been done better. His industry in the collection of facts and illustrative incidents, his tact and judgment in arranging them, his thorough knowledge of all scientific and other collateral matters having a bearing on his subject, and his perfect mastery in the art of elaborating his materials to the ends of effective representation, are alike unexceptionably praiseworthy. His book, indeed, so well and admirably fulfils its object, that there is hardly any. thing to be said of it except in the way of eulogy.

Of the man George Stephenson, whose struggles, endeavourings, and performances are therein so faithfully and graphically recorded, there is much that might be said in the way of no less hearty commendation. To speak of him, however, in the way of eulogy or laudation, comes not within our present purpose. It will be more interesting to our readers, if we trace the leading particulars of his life, the circumstances and conditions in which his genius and character were developed, and the special achievements by which he won for himself honour and distinction among the men of his generation. The singular energy and perseverance, which were mainly contributive to his success, are impressively illustrated at all points of his advancement; so that, though our delineation must be necessarily brief, it can hardly be wanting in instruction and attractiveness.

The account given of Stephenson's early years is as interesting as anything of the kind we ever read. Yet it was by no means a pleasant life to live. There was nothing picturesque or graceful in it-nothing that could be shaped into a pleasing or poetical description. It was rough prose from the beginning-stern reality, manifested in many hardships and few enjoyments. He was born among the ashes and dust-heaps of a small colliery village, about eight miles from Newcastle—the village of Wylam—in a house still standing, and still occupied by colliery labourers. The 9th of June, 1781, was his birth-day; and when he first opened his eyes to take conscious notice of his whereabout, it was to find himself in a dull unplastered room, with a clay floor, and the bare rafters visible overhead. Robert Stephenson, his father, was familiarly called by the neighbours “Old Bob;" his mother's name was Mabel-a woman of somewhat delicate constitution, nervous

* “The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer." By SAMUEL SMILES. Fourth Edition, Revised, with Additions. London: Murray. 1857.

in temperament, and troubled occasionally with the “ vapours.” But those who remember her concur in asserting that “ she was a rale canny body,” which is the highest praise of a woman Northumbrians can express. When little George was born, there was already, toddling about the clay floor, another little fellow about two years old ; and ultimately the family increased to as many as six children—all of whom were honestly supported upon Bob Stephenson's wages of twelve shila lings a week. “Old Bob” was fireman to the pumping-engine at the Wylam Colliery, and he continued in a similar position during the rest of his working life. There was no sumptuous faring in that household, we may be sure, where eight persons had to subsist on twelve shillings a week, which was even not always regular. One can easily believe an aged neighbour, who remembers them, and says, “They had very little to come and go upon—they were honest folk, but sore haudden doon in the world.”

In his rough Northumbrian way, “Old Bob” was rather a genial kind of man. He was of slender, attenuated frame ; but, withal, an exceedingly amiable person, and was long borne in recollection for his curious love of nature, and his fondness for romance. His son's biographer tells us :

“ He was accustomed, while tending his engine-fire in the evenings, to draw around him the young people of the village, and to feast their imagina. tions with his wonderful stories of Sinbad the Sailor, and Robinson Crusoe, besides others of his own invention. Hence he was an immense favourite with all the boys and girls of the place, and “Bob's engine-fire' was always their favourite resort. Another feature in his character, by which he was long remembered, was his strong affection for birds and animals of all sorts. In the winter time he had usually a flock of tame robins about him, and they would come hopping familiarly round the engine-fire to pick up the crumbs which he saved for them out of his slender dinner. In summer time he went bird-nesting in his leisure hours ; and one day he took his little boy George to see a blackbird's nest for the first time. Holding him up in his arms, the boy gazed with wonder into the nest full of young birds-a sight which he never forgot, but used to speak of with delight to his intimate friends, when he himself had grown an old man."

While a boy at Wylam, Geordy Stephenson led the ordinary life of working-people's children. He played about the doors, went birdnesting, and ran errands to the village. In course of time he came to carry his father's dinner to him while at work; and he helped to nurse his younger brothers and sisters at home—for, as truly said by his biographer, “In the poor man's dwelling every hand must early be turned to useful account.” The worst of it was, none of the children ever went to school; the family was too poor, and food too dear, to admit of that.

Among the miscellaneous occupations of the elder children, one was to see that the younger ones were kept out of the way of the coalwaggons, which were then dragged by horses along the wooden tramroad immediately in front of the cottage-door. Wooden railways were used early in Northumberland, and this at Wylam was destined to be the first on which a locomotive engine was set travelling. “At the time, however, of which we speak, locomotives had scarcely been dreamt of; horses were still the only tractive power; and one of the daily sights of young Stephenson was the coal-wagons dragged by their means along this wooden railway at Wylam."

With such out-looks and employments eight years passed over ; after which, the coal having been worked out, the old engine was pulled down, and the Stephenson family, following the work, removed from Wylam to Dewly Burn, where the Duke of Northumberland (to whom most of the property in the neighbourhood belongs) had opened a new pit. Here George Stephenson first began to work for weekly wages.

“ A widow, named Ainslie, then occupied the neighbouring farm house of Dewley. She kept a number of cows, and had the privilege of grazing them along the waggon-ways. She needed a boy to herd the cows, to keep them out of the way of the waggons, and prevent their straying or trespassing on the neighbours' • liberties"; the boy's duty was also to bar the gates at night after all the wagons had passed. George petitioned for this post, and to his great joy he was appointed, at the wages of two-pence a-day.”

The employment was light, and he had plenty of spare time on his hands, which he spent in such pastimes as bird-nesting, making whistles out of reeds and scrannel straws, and erecting Lilliputian mills in the little water-streams that ran into Dewley Bog. But his favourite amusement at this early age was erecting clay-engines, in conjunction with a playmate, named Tom Thirlaway. They found the clay for their engines in the adjoining bog; and the hemlock which grew about supplied them with abundance of imaginary steam-pipes. The place is still pointed out, just aboon the cut end,' as the people of the hamlet describe it, where the future engineer made his first essays in modelling. This early indication of a mechanical turn may remind the reader of a similar anecdote of the boy Smeaton, who, when missed one day by his parents, was found mounted on the roof of the cottage, fixing a puny windmill.”

As the boy grew older, he was set to leading horses at the plough ; and he used afterwards to say that he rode to his work in the mornings at an hour when most other children of his age were fast asleep in bed. From this he was advanced to turnip-hoeing, and other feats of farmingwork, for which he was paid the increased wages of fourpence a-day. After a short time, he grew ambitious to be taken on at the colliery where his father worked, and where also his brother James, two years his senior, was employed as a “corf-bitter," or “picker"-the duties

calling being to clear the coal of "stones, bats, and dross." His wages were now raised to sixpence a-day; and ere very long he began to earn eightpence, as driver of the

gin-horse. In that capacity he was employed at the Black Callerton Colliery, two miles from Dewley Burn, whither he went early in the morning every day, and did not return till late at night. “ Some of the old people of Black Callerton still remember him as a 'grit bare-legged laddie,' and describe him as being then ' very quick-witted, and full of fun and tricks.' As they said, "there was nothing under the sun but he tried to imitate. He was, besides, usually foremost in the sports and pastimes of youth.” The love of birds and animals, which was noticed in his father, was also strong in him. Blackbirds were his especial favourites. He knew all their nests between Dewley and Black Callerton; and when the young birds were old enough, he would take them home with him, and feed them, and let

them ly about the cottage, unconfined by cages. “One of his blackbirds became so tame that, after flying about the doors all day, and in and ont of the cottage, it would take up its roost upon the bed's head at night. And most singular of all, the bird would disappear in the spring and summer months, when it was supposed to go into the woods to pair and rear its young, after which it would reappear at the cottage, and resume its social habits during the winter." This went on for several years. George, in the meantime, had also a stock of tame rabbits, and was celebrated in the neighbourhood for the superiority of his


While driving the gin-horse, he fixed his eye upon a higher situation which he wished to obtain next, namely, that of being assistant-fireman to his father at the Dewley engine. His only fear was that he should be considered too young for the work. He got this desired promotion at the early age of fourteen, and along with it the advanced wages of six shillings a week. Ever since he had modelled his clay engines in the bog, it had been his ambition to become an engineman, and here was a step upwards. He used to relate, however, that when the owner of the colliery came round, he was wont to hide himself from sight, lest he should be thought too little a boy for the post, and the wages he was earning

The coal at Dewley Burn being at length worked out, the Stephensons removed to a place called Jolly's Close, a few miles off, where another mine had recently been opened. The joint earnings of the family were now rapidly increasing. Most of the children were able to bring in something. James and George, the two eldest, worked as assistantfiremen ; and the younger boys were employed as wheelers or pickers on the bank-tops. The two girls helped their mother with the housework. Their united incomings amounted to from thirty-five shillings to forty shillings a-week ; and they were thus enabled to command a fair share of the common necessaries of life.

But, owing to the war with Napoleon, provisions in those years were getting extremely dear; so that money did not go so far as it had done formerly. Wheat rose from fifty-four shillings to a hundred-and-thirty shillings a quarter. Taxes on all articles of consumption were very heavy. Hence, upon the whole, it was still hard to live. The Stephensons, however, appear to have continued in pretty regular employment, and to have struggled on together without much actual suffering. George, at the age of fifteen, was thought competent enongh to be entrusted with the post of fireman to an engine, on his own account, a little engine lately set up at a place called the “ Mid Mill Winnin," where he had for his associate and assistant a young man named Bill Coe, with whom he worked in that capacity for about two years. But the Mid-mill engine being a little one, the nominal increase of dignity was not attended with


increase of wages. George's ambition was to attain rank as soon as possible as a full workman, and earn the regular twelve shillings a week. He had even thoughts of rising from the employment of fireman to that of engine-man, with its accompanying advantage of higher pay. And this was about the sum of his ambition.

Though never working less than twelve hours a-day, he found time for some amusement. It was one of his pastimes to compete with his associates in lifting heavy weights, throwing the hammer, and putting

« ZurückWeiter »