FAIRBAIRN'S POLITICAL ECONOMY OF RAILROADS.
WHEN XERXES bridged the Hellespont, the Greeks regarded it as an impious presumption, and a miraculous display of human power ; the sceptical Romans of a later age dismissed the story as a lie. But neither the bridge of XERXES, nor the hanging gardens of Babylon, nor the Colossus of Rhodes, nor any of the " Wonders" of the ancients, can compete for a moment with the slightest of Mr. FAIRBAIRN'S imaginings. We do not say that this treatise is the most extraordinary book ever published : for Bishop WILRINS printed the scheme of a journey to the moon ; and many projects both wild and wonderful are doubtless slum- bering on the shelves of libraries ; and many have been allowed to perish altogether, through the carelessness of an ungrateful world. We may truly say, however, that the Political Economy of Railroads is the most extraordinary volume we ever read, and displays the strongest symptoms of monomania we ever met with,— a methodical delusion, where the form and manner are sobriety -itself, and nothing save the matter smacks of madness. Passing by Mr. FAIRBAIRN'S economical disquisitions both political and pecuniary, as well as some hard hits at joint-stock companies, let us endeavour to convey an idea of those schemes which stamp the character upon the treatise. To "push on, keep moving," is evidently in our author's opinion the grand business of life ; and he proposes, by way of a beginning, that our leading turnpike-roads should be converted into railroads; leaving the middle for coaches as at present, and, where necessary, removing ".the hedges" on one side to procure the requisite width. Over these side-ways another railroad should be erected on arches, with a boarded way similar to a suspension-bridge. In due season the middle turnpike should be converted into railways, with others over it; so that our leading roads should all have eight lines at least— four on terra firma, four hanging in the air. As our author esti- mates the present cost of water carriage from Dover to London at 25s. per ton, and calculates that these railroads would convey it at 55. per ton, he concludes that, under such a difference in the rate of transport, all vessels would discharge their cargoes at Dover, if they could. He therefore proposes " to take down" the cliffs of the Southern coast, and fill up the sea for about three miles, till the deep water is reached ; thence he " would build walls of hewn stone, or of rough material, with external surfaces of iron, forming the docks and other appurtenances of a harbour of great extent the French on the other side are to do as we do; and if we begin operations at a point " between Dover and Folkstone, ten miles of channel only would intervene between the harbours ; and this could be bridged over by a causeway, or, if the navigation were to be kept open, by a suspension-bridge with drawbridges, or by any "other cheap and practicable mode." The author, however, is by no means bigoted to any particular idea. Failing to cover the sea, we might travel under it- " A tunnel," quoth he, " could be constructed from the extremities of the two harbours proposed, and would be therefore only ten miles &try. Also buildings similar to lighthouses might be erected in the Channel, through which shafts might be opened for the purpose of proceeding with the excava- tion from a number of points simultaneously ; and these also might be left per. ulanently open to light and ventilate the work. It is to be observed in favour of this mode, that the chalk of which the substratum is composed is soft of excavation, and would be at all times dry,—no springs being ever found by the geologists below the superior surface of the chalk."
It does not escape Mr. FAIRBAIRN that the Docks of London would suffer : but what of that ? Let out the water, and turu them into garden grounds, converting the buildings into menu- factories—to facilitate, we presume, the growth of vegetables.. Father Thames, too, is fated to desolation : but who can control his fate ?—
" Navigable rivers, canals, and all other modes of conveyance by water, will now be utterly laid void. For, not the Thames alone, but the Shannon, the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, and all the other great navigable streams will now be deserted for the land. Let Father Thames then die."
Having thus covered Great Britain with railroads, and con- nected her with the Continent, our projector suggests a commu- nication between Scotland and Ireland by "a railway across the Irish Channel, from Portpatrick to near Donaghadee ;" the inter- channels between the Copeland Islands being filled up, and the remaining ten miles of sea partly walled into and partly bridged over,—a tunnel, though possible, having to encounter "the ob- stacle of ninety-eight fathoms" in the mid-channel. After dwelling a little upon a " bridge " between England and Ire- land by way of the Isle of Man, as a thing possible and desirable, but scarcely pressing, he travels to America; and proceeds to show how his late threat respecting the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence may be fulfilled. From America he jumps to the Isthmus of Suez, and proposes to connect the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, by a canal with iron sides and bottom—a succession,, in fact, of great cisterns for vessels of fivehundred tons.
" Should the project of a canal be abandoned, and a railway be the ultimate mode of achieving this pass, then the marine railway becomes first worthy of consideration ; for could vessels be raised upon a railway and transported by locomotive steam-engines across the Isthmus, that assuredly would be the best
mode of accomplishing the work. • • • •
" Failing the marine railway, a common railroad for waggons would still effect a most extensive saving of' time, hazard, and expense, as compared to the doubling of the Cape of Good hope. A waggon might be then shipped at Bombay, and unloaded at Suez, passing thence to Alexandria, and again shipped for the port of Marseilles, and upon the railroad to England direct. Thus would this waggon and its contents be conveyed from Bombay to London, without being unloaded, in about fifteen days."
This, however, is merely the beginning of an end. " In con- tinuation and connexion with this route to the East Indies, a rail- way may be formed across the peninsula of India from Bombay to Calcutta, which is a distance of nine hundred miles." "Due west from Calcutta at a distance of 1200 miles, and 2000 west from Bombay, is the city of Canton, the great trading port of the Chinese empire,"—a hint "in anticipation of the revolutionary changes which are evidently at hand" in China.
It should be borne in mind that these projects are not put for- ward as imaginary anticipations of what may be hereafter, or as speculations of what it is possible to accomplish now, if neither the will of man nor the pecuniary means were matters of consideration; but as plans of ready execution, whose costs and profits are all set down, and which may be effected, if we under- stand rightly, by individuals not even congregating into joint- stock companies. Let us, however, do justice both to the modesty and the prophetic powers of HENRY FAIRBAIRN, so that when future generations locomotive it across the Atlantic, they may call to mind the genius that first shadowed out a project whose possi- bilities it foresaw, although conscious that the fulness of time had not yet come- " Here I will boldly point to the circumstance, that the depth of the Atlantic Ocean, between the Western coast of Ireland and the coast of Newfoundland, does not carry an average depth of more than about thirty-five fathoms, the dis- tance being twelve hundred miles. In this age, nothing can be presumed to be founded upon such a circumstance in the natural history of the sea ; but, in anticipation of the wonders of futurity, the shallowness of the ocean be- tween these islands and the continent of America may be worthy of being pointed out."