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The progress of invention-The late Mr. Stead-His faith in spiritualism-A séance that failed-The Great Eastern-Old world travelling-Sir Tatton Sykes-Dangers and discomforts of the road -Threadneedle Street biscuits-Turnpikes and "Turnpike money"-Anecdotes-Railroad and Tramway-A snob in office-AnecdotesThere's no place like home
URING a long life I have seen numberless
changes, and it is curious to reflect that most
of the inventions which have contributed so largely to the convenience and comfort of modern life were undreamt of during my childhood.
Only six years before I was born had the first steamer which ever crossed the Atlantic arrived at Liverpool.
This was the "Savannah," an American vessel, which, partly sailing and partly steaming, had arrived direct from the United States in what was then considered the marvellously quick time of 26 days. The first two steamers which left England for New York were the "Sirius" and the "Great Western." The former, starting from London on 4th April 1838, arrived at New York on the 22nd of the same month; while the latter, which left Bristol three days later, reached it on the 23rd.
It is a far cry from these little vessels-the
"Savannah" was only 350 tons-to the great steamships of to-day like the "Titanic," 45,000 tons, which recently met with such a terrible fate. To the best of my belief there was only one individual on board whom I knew. This was Mr. W. T. Stead, most brilliant of journalists and in many ways an extraordinary man.
Some years ago I saw a good deal of him, and he once induced me to go to a spiritualist séance where the medium was a young girl in whom he placed implicit faith. Mr. Stead indeed was always placing implicit faith in somebody or something, he seemed to have an infinite capacity for belief.
The medium, I remember, said she had never seen anyone so surrounded by spooks as I was, nevertheless, except that she tore a handkerchief to bits in a sort of frenzy, nothing whatever happened, and I thought the séance a complete failure. However, Mr. Stead's enthusiasm was not in the least cooled. I thought it a pity that such a clever individual should devote so much of his attention to spiritualism, connected as it generally is with so much nonsense and humbug.
He was a large-hearted and generous man, in fact in some ways he resembled a mediaeval saint. What a pity that Julia or some other spook did not warn him against setting out on his fatal journey. According to all accounts, by the irony of fate he met his death clinging to a piece of wreckage in company with an American millionaire, his own
prediction as to his end-being kicked to death in the streets of London-being thus completely falsified.
It is curious how a certain kind of intellect-often of a high order, as in the case of poor Mr. Stead, is attracted by spiritualism. Believers in it are generally people possessed of a vivid imagination and very prone to emotion. Matter-of-fact individuals take little interest in efforts to communicate with those in another world.
Dr. Wolff, the father of the late Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, used to tell a story of a certain M. Preisweg of Geneva, a good and excellent Christian, to whom a ghost appeared as he was going to bed, and said: "I am the ghost of a person who was hanged here six weeks ago." "That is no business of mine,” replied Preisweg ; "so good-night."
I remember the "Great Eastern" and the wonder it was thought to be-nevertheless, except for the purpose of laying the Atlantic cable, it did not prove very much of a success. A story connected with this steamship would have interested poor Mr. Stead.
Somehow or other an impression got about that this ship was haunted by the ghost of an unfortunate riveter, which was to be heard working in various parts of it. The captain, as a matter of fact, used to say that he believed a workman employed upon the construction of the "Great Eastern "had got riveted up in some part of the vessel, for one man had never
THE GREAT EASTERN
come for his wages. This idea getting about amongst the ship's company actually caused some of the men to leave, declaring that they had heard their departed friend busily engaged in riveting in the middle of the night. The story was believed by many persons in New York, and on one occasion, while the ship was under repair, a diver was signalled to be drawn up. He appeared pale with fright, and affirmed the ghost of the riveter was busy in the bottom part of the ship,-in fact, that he began riveting immediately over his head. Such was the consternation among the divers that they called in the aid of one of the mediums, who were then flourishing in America. The medium came on board the ship, and, after an examination, declared that the missing man was there both "in body and spirit." Fortunately, however, the captain-Paton by name -by pure accident, was enabled to dispel the illusion. Being in a boat near the bows of the ship, he discovered that a swivel connected with the moorings worked to and fro, the movement causing a chink or vibration which at times, more especially at night, was heard throughout the vessel. It was this sound which had conjured up, in connexion with the supposed fate of the unfortunate riveter, the phantom whose mysterious doings spread such consternation on board the big ship.
An even greater failure than the "Great Eastern" was the "Castalia," which, in the Seventies, by a sort of swinging arrangement, was supposed to abolish sea
sickness. Many other ideas have been mooted to abolish the horrors of the Channel passage.
A scheme for a roadway beneath it was once actually laid before Napoleon, whilst after the introduction of railways, several plans were proposed to connect the roads of England and the Continent.
A good deal of attention was attracted by the proposal of a French engineer in 1857. His idea was to form thirteen islands in the Channel, by carrying material out to sea, dig down through the said islands into terra firma, and tunnel east and west.
Another scheme was that put forward by Mr Chalmers in 1862. His plan was to consist in submerging tubes of suitable dimensions, loading them down, and making ample provision for ventilation, light, safety, and comfort, while the shore embankments would form magnificent harbours of refuge on each side of the Channel.
Since then efforts have from time to time been made to obtain permission to construct a tunnel beneath the sea, but this does not seem likely to be done for a long time to come.
The early days of railways still linger in my memory, and I can recall the dislike with which oldfashioned people like my father-a Tory of Toriesviewed them. He always remained faithful to the post-chaise, the internal arrangement of which, by the by, was not altogether dissimilar from the modern taxi cab. The calculating machine now in general use, it is curious to remember, is also not altogether a new thing.