THE LIFE OF ROBERT STEPHENSON.* Mn. Jr ASFRESON and Professor
Pole have worked well together. Mr. Jeaffreson did well in calling in the assistance of Professor Pole to popularize many of Stephenson's most important achieve- ments. No one out of the profession could have so lucidly and agreeably brought down to the level of popular comprehension the data and arguments connected with such subjects as atmospheric railways or iron bridges, and no work could fairly be called a life of Robert Stephenson unless it entered sufficiently into the purely professional details of these and similar matters to enable ordinary readers to judge for themselves what were the difficulties to be overcome, what was the exact amount of knowledge and experience common at the time to Stephenson and other engineers, and in what points the original genius and distinctive qualities of the former manifested themselves. On the other hand, Mr. Jeaffre- son's versatile literary ability enabled him, even in the midst of other and possibly more congenial labours, to compile a very read- able and thoroughly verified biography—a task for which few engineers would have found time or inclination.
The first step taken by Mr. Jeaffreson when, four years ago, he undertook to write the life of Robert Stephenson, was to visit Durham and Northumberland, and to seek out all surviving relatives, companions, or patrons of the Stephensons, father and son. The first important conclusion at which he arrived was the utter untrustworthiness of the majority of existing works on the lives or labours of both, and as many of the general misconcep- tions as to the career of the elder Stephenson naturally threw a false light on the early life and bringing up of his son, Mr. Jeaf- frown has in effect given a tolerably full memoir of the father as well as the son.
We are not troubled with pedigree, real or imaginary, in the case of the Stephenson family. People are living who were once associates of " Bob the Storyteller," or " old Robert Stephen- son," in his early days a fireman in North-country pits, and after losing his sight through an accident, a quiet, gentle old man, fond of amusing the village children with stories and romances of his own. He was George Stephenson's father, and the only remaining fact in the Stephenson genealogy is that George Stephenson is said once to have mentioned that his grandfather came from Scotland in the service of a Scotch gentleman. This rests on English authority, not on Scotch, and may consequently be at least accepted as unprejudiced evidence. Mr, Jeaffreson has had the
good sense to waste no time in conjecture or discussion on the question, and after giving as briefly and clearly as possible the main incidents of George Stephenson's early life and the boyhood of his son, brings his readers at once to the time when the former began to emerge from the obscurity of a Newcastle brakesman, and the education of the latter as an engineer may be said to have com- menced. Until the age of fifteen Robert Stephenson had been a delicate boy, remarkable at the school which he attended at New- castle chiefly for the extreme sensitiveness with which he regarded the laughter of his associates at his rough Northumbrian accent, and for an indifference to physical pain which enabled him at eleven years old to undergo the reduction of a bad fracture of the arm
without a movement or cry. In 1819 —being then fifteen—
Robert entered into active life as apprentice to Nicholas Wood, a mining engineer. His father was then enginewright to several of the collieries of which Wood was viewer, and the two were consequently much together. The elder Stephenson was now beginning to strain every nerve for the accumulation of capital sufficient to enable him to secure a fair chance of reap- ing the profit of his inventions. The sum of 1,0001., presented to him by his Newcastle admirers as a token of their support to his claim to the credit of the original invention of the safety-lamp,
• The' L jfe of Robert Stephenson. By J. C. Jeaftresen and Professor Pole. London Longman& 1864. claimed also by Sir Humphrey Davy, served . as a substantial nucleus. Robert Stephenson's work at this tiLie was very differ- ent from that of young gentlemen of the present day who enter the profession as pupils of distinguished engineers. Hard, dreary, and dangerous work underground, broken only during the day by a visit to the upper regions for a dinner generally consisting of " a herring, a penny roll, and a glass of small bear," was his ordinary day's routine. It was not long, however, before his father's rapid rise in position, repute, and fortune, opened a far different career. At the age of eighteeg Robert Stephenson, for the first time in his life, left the Northumbrian coal pits a day's journey behind him, and after a trip to London, the survey of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and a brief residence at the University of Edinburgh, he joined his father and Messrs. Pease, Longridge, and 'Richardson in the manufacture of locomotive engines. It is diffi- cult fully to appreciate the self-reliant daring• which prompted the Stephensons thus to risk their reputation-and embark their laboriously acquired capital in the manufacture of an article which, even according to their most sanguine anticipations, re- quired to be greatly improved and its principle largely developed before the prejudices and hostility of the great majority of practical men could be so far removed as to render its sale pro- bable. In 1824 Robert Stephenson was asked by the " Colom- bian Association" to accompany their first expedition, and to report on the prospects of successfully working the neglected mines of Colombia, the advisability of improving the harbour of La Guayra, and the possibility of constructing a railway between that port and emcees. He accepted the offer, and his first two steps were extremely characteristic. He first took a trip to the Cornish mining country, and made himself thoroughly acquainted with the processes, implements, and commercial organization of the mining system of that district. His first stipulation with his employers was that 3001. a year—three-fifths of his salary—. should be paid to his father, thus contributing to the support of the still unprofitable speculation on which so much ultimately depended. Stephenson was now, at the age of twenty, in a most difficult and responsible position. All the old wild stories of the vast wealth of the long-neglected South Ameri- can mines had excited the expectations of the English speculators to unreasonable heights, and without a thought on the manifold difficulties of the enterprise they looked forward to enormous returns without delay. It did not take long to convince Stephenson that the association would prove a losing concern. To add to his other troubles, the Cornish miners sent out to him, maddened with drink, broke out into open and armed revolt, and nothing but his marvellous self-reliance and coolness saved his life on more than one occasion. All that could be done with the means at his command he did, but the wild expectations, geo- graphical ignorance, and practical inexperience of the projectors at home placed success out of the question, They sent him costly machinery which no power on earth could have raised to the mountain heights for which it was designed, they constantly reproached him for not sending freights of silver which he had no means either of raising or transporting, gravely recommended him to use in the Andes the water-power of rivers far off in the plains, and sneered at what they termed his '• theoretical ser- vices." As Stephenson quietly observed, "These men prate about the superiority of practical men over scientific men, being them- selves neither the one nor the other." A French savant who accompanied Stephenson recommended the use of " ehiens " in the mines. The humane secretary of the association, quite unaware that chien, like hued in German, meant a kind of four-wheeled truck or tram, severely reprimanded Stephenson for the monstrous cruelty of using dogs as beasts of burden. The total expenditure of the association during the three years of Stephenson's manage• ment was 200,0001., and though their own malailministration bad, rendered this outlay all but fruitless, the directors at last admitted, on Stephenson's return, that he had done all that could have been done.
Both father and son now set themselves to work at the great problem on the solution of which they had everything at stake— the improvement of the locomotive engine. The locomotive engine was the object of dislike and enmity as vigorous as if it had been a human being instead of a machine. The prospects of the loco- motive, too, were far from brilliant. The first stage of the pro- blem—that of making a locomotive move at all—had been solved, but that of making it move more than five miles an hour was still as far from solution as ever in the opinion of nearly all but the Stephensons. It was even thought a great step when it was decided that horses were out of the question for the Liverpool and Manchester line, thereby narrowing the competition to that
between stationary and locomotive engines. How the " Rocket " ultimately settled the question is well known. Mr. Jeaffreson gives one of the best accounts of the great engine contest we have read, and discusses pretty fully the different versions of the discoveries of the multitubular boiler and the principle of the " blast " which resulted in the final success of the locomotive. With regard to the latter, the only means by which anything like the speed necessary in a locomotive could be acquired, it is curious to notice that both of the more credible stories agree in attributing its discovery to chance. One of these stories is, that some Northumbrian engine-drivers, who are accus-
tomed, as Mr. Jeaffreson says, "to tinker up their engines as un- concernedly as a Suffolk ploughman ties up his horses' tails "—hit upon the principle by accident while tinkering up the waste-pipe. In George Stephenson's first locomotive there was an uninten- tional blast of a certain kind, but its only effect seems to have been to procure the sobriquet of Puffing Billy" for the engine.
We have not space even to ruu through the bare list of Stephen- son's engineering achievements, on all of which Mr. Jeaffreson and his colleague are equally full and clear in their accounts. For the thousands who are familiar with the earlier and more dramatic scenes in his life, there are comparatively few who know much of the really great and distinctive creations of his genius in later years. In these days, when engineering of the highest class has become one of the greatest and most indispensable agencies of civilization and progress throughout the world, and when engi- neering of, some kind may be said to have been brought often un- pleasantly to the door of almost every inhabitant of London or our great towns, a certain general knowledge of the practical nature of engineering work is useful, if not necessary, to every-one, and there can be few more agreeable ways of acquiring such know-
ledge than by reading Mr. Jeaffreson's sketches of Stephenson's master-pieces.
The most difficult task of any biographer of Stephenson would be the attempt to give anything like a connected account of his private life. There was scarcely ever a man who was so totally and exclusively wrapped up in his profession, and no profession can so completely absorb the entire individuality of a man as that of a great engineer. At one time, for example, while the battle of the gauges, the atmospheric contest, the failure of the Dee Bridge, and the execution of many of his most stupend-
ous undertakings were scarcely things of the past, he re- ceived petitions rather than orders for his services in con- structing railways in Norway, and Egypt, and the tubular bridge over the St. Lawrence. The wonder is that such a man found time for anything unconnected with the immediate duties of his profession. In addition to his legitimate labours in design- ing and executing the works entrusted to him, there were the innumerable crowds of monomaniacal inventors and patentees who beset him so closely and unrelentingly that he used to say the sea was his only refuge,—there their importunities could not reach him. Stephenson was . not the man and those were not the days to reject at once anything which might contain the germ of a useful invention, but at last his patience was exhausted. There was one especial class of monomaniacs whose occupation it was to invent improved breaks. For them he had one stereotype& method of treatment. They were received by his brother-in- law, Mr. Sanderson, and the following ingenious trap al ways suc- ceeded :— "Mr. Sanderson.—Indeed, Sir. And what can you do with the break ? " Inventor. —I can stop a train instantly—instantaneously, Sir.
"Mr. Sanderson (with an expression of horror in his countenance).— Good Heavens, Sir ! if you did that, you'd kill all the passengers.
"Inventor (suddenly modifying his statement).—But, Sir,•—I can stop a train gradually.
"Mr. Sanderson (bringing the discussion to an end).—So can anybody else."
Stephenson's Parliamentary life was much like his private life— merely another phase of his professional life. Though the most daring innovator of the day in practical matters, he was a bitter Tory in theory, and by the same rule of contrary, though a muni- ficent patron of popular education in reality, he never grew so excited as when abnaing Liberal theories of general instruction. But the whole of his later career as a great public character is in the memory of every one, and it is for the able record of his pro- fessional work that Mr. Jeaffreson's volumes fulfil so well their object as a life of the greatest of our great engineers.