A NEW GOODS-CARRYING CLAUSE.
" VOLENTT non fit injuria "—if passengers are willing to travel and be smashed or crippled, they cannot complain or recover damages. That is the doctrine nakedly and formally advanced by the Brighton Railway Company, in its annual report and in the mouth of its Chairman. It is forgotten that the public does not exercise an unrestrained will in the matter ; since, by privileges and special laws, railway companies have been enabled to super- sede the old modes of conveyance, and to take the highways, with all the carriages, into their own hands. The willingness of the public to travel and be crippled, therefore, is not to be presumed from the fact, that, travelling, it is crippled. It claims damages, and gets them; whereupon the Brighton and South Coast Rail- way Company feels aggrieved, as by a hardship. But there is balm in Gilead, and the hurt Company puts its trust in the pro- gress of enlightened civilization.
With regard to compensations," says the report, " the Directors will only observe, that they believe the time is approaching when the common sense of juries, or the interference of the Legislature, will set some limit to the system under which extortionate fines are inflicted upon railway com- panies for accidents altogether beyond their control, and resulting from some momentary act of inattention, or want of presence of mind, on the part of some one out of the many hundred servants in their employment, however carefully the best men may have been selected for their respective situations."
The only fit reply to such a hope should be given by a gamin de Londres—" Don't you wish you may get it r Junes will ne- ver advance backwards so far as to perceive the irresponsibility of railway managers for all those " accidents " which are trace- able to known and preventible causes ; nor will they be expedited on that backward route by such arguments as those of Mr. Laing in support of this new irresponsible doctrine. If any one could succeed, he ought, since he unites in his person almost every qualification : he has been a barrister and practised in persuasives for railway interests ; he has been an official controller of railways; he is a Member of Parliament ; and he is head of a great railway company. • Perhaps without these qualifications for success, past and present, he would not have ventured upon so monstrous a doctrine, which he puts in its most monstrous form ; insisting that the accidents arise " from no neglect or want of forethought, nor from false economy, but from the individual carelessness of men employed, and are as purely accidents as if the tyre of a wheel had been broken, or a train had been struck by lightning front heaven." Thus, actus Dei and actus Directoranz are equivalent expressions! This begs the whole question. We have repeatedly shown that railway accidents arise from standing causes, which are perfectly well-known,—want of exactness, want of discipline, want of suf- ficient hands, want of effective machinery, &o. Luckily, however, Mr. Laing exemplifies his argument. " The Directors of the Company had spared no pains to obtain the best men ; but it did happen that, one foggy morning, one of the servants—a very steady, able, and intelligent man—was sent out with two flags, and with strict orders to show the red one ; but be made a mistake, and held out a green one. The result was a Collision, and several of the passengers sus- tained shocks to their nervous systems, which, under the skilful treatment of certain doctors and lawyers, produced serious consequences. All attempts at compromise were resisted, and the matter was referred to a jury They had to pay between 30001. and 4000/. ; and, he was sorry to say, et no credit for hberality from anybody. These, however, were contingencies over which they had no control."
Granting all the elements in this case,—granting that two oppos- ing signals ought to be so nearly alike as two flags distinguished
only by colour, and granting that the fog had something to do with the man's " mistake "—still it was at least a mistake ; but whose ? " Qui facit per ;Bum facit per se": the mistake made by the man was a mistake made by the Company ; and, supposing it only a mistake, on whom should the consequences fall? Not on the passengers, who did not make it; but on the Company, whioh did. The fact is, however, that inattention is precisely one of the general and fertile causes of accident; and inattention is one form of indiscipline. Now discipline is as needful in railway as in naval or military affairs ; and in either of those categories "mistakes" are not admitted in exculpation. Believe a company from the consequences of not enforcing attention, and any jury will perceive
much more often railway servants make a " mistake" between a green flag and a red one. It is clear that Mr Laing has no respect of persons, and regards railway-passengers as mere pretenders to feeling. Many people laugh at humanitarians who would abstain from hurting insects— the laughers contending that insects feel no pain; Mr. Laing ex- tends that assertion to railway-passengers, in whom "nervous shock " is the factitious product of medical and legal chicanery. He disbelieves in the physical consequences of collision. If such consequences be insisted on, he has still a resource; and he defines the value of a railway-passenger with a frightful equation-
" Supposing that, by one of their express-trains some evening, half-a-dozen Bishops, or the Lord Chancellor, should be travelling, and, altbMigh the company paid wages and used every exertion to obtain the best men, one of their servants should hold out a wrong flag or give a wrong signal, and any of these dignified persons were injured, why should the company be called upon to pay 10,0001. for a Bishop,. or 20,0001. for a Lord Chancellor, while they only paid their 2kej. per mile, like any ordinary passenger ? The Carriers Act provided that specula compensation should not be paid for goods carried at the ordinary rates; and valuable goods, as for instance bullion or silk, if the carrier were required to be responsible for them, were charged at higher rates. All that be wanted was to apply the same principle to Bishops and to the Lord Chancellor as was now applicable to bales of silk or chests of bul- lion."
Adopting Sydney Smith, in reverse, Mr. Laing makes light of Bishops. A contemporary makes merry with the notion of treating a crate of crockery and Lord St. I.eonards " on the same principle," both labelled " Glass---with care " ; or, he might have added, A Bishop—this end uppermost " ; but the months a graver one. The Chairman of the Brighton and South Coast Railway. Company for- gets that his principle does not holdgOod in certain important par- ticulars. After treating the lightning of heaven and the inatten- tion of a railway-policeman as parallels, this accurate but sarcastic philosopher treats bales of silk and chests of bullion as parallels to the woolsack and the mitre : but he forgets that bales and bullion are not sensitive, as even Bishops and Chancellors may be ; that silk and gold do not suffer, do not die; that " goods " leave no sur- vivors. The flesh-and-blood part of the matter has as little weight with Mr. Laing as the political importance or the social dignity : in his view, all are irrelevant considerations. To him, the value of a fellow creature is, at its maximum, just twopence- halfpenny a mile—just 12s. 6d. for a Brighton journey. The Company gets only that out of Bishop or any other human being : why then give more ? If Bishop does not go, Company. loses 128. 6d. ; if Bishop is smashed, society loses that which in the railway-table is expressed by 128. 6d. Company and society can afford to deal on those terms. A Bishop more or less—what does it matter P Nor would 12s. 6d. be missed in the annual revenue. The loss would be just equal, by the figures. Such is the moral of Mr. Laing's philosophy ; and the public will do well to under- stand these two conclusions, which apply to us all:
1. That on the lines under the Brighton and South Coast Rail- way Company, substitution of green flag for red, of safety for danger, is regarded as being not more under control of the managers or servants than "lightning from heaven." 2. That a railway passenger is not esteemed more than "goods," and is worth to the Company only 21,-d. per mile.