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CORNELIUS O'DOWD UPON MEN AND WOMEN, AND OTHER THINGS
SECURITY ON THE "RAIL."
FROM what I can gather from the newspapers, the Railway Boards in England are showing no very zealous desire to co-operate with the Board of Trade in the adoption of measures of security against ruffianly travellers. They would seem to imply that their whole concern is in the transit of the man or the trunk committed to their charge; that they are no more responsible for the morals than for the good manners of those they convey.
They argue briefly thus: The individual is to us a mere parcel of merchandise, for whose transport to a certain place we alone contract. He may be a heaven-born conversationalist, or the most foul-tongued blackguard and blasphemer; we have no possible means of ascertaining to which category he belongs. There are no tests known to us by which he can be analysed; nor, if there were, is there in the rapid process of railway despatch the time to apply them.
We do not, for instance, condi
VOL. XCVI.-NO. DLXXXVIII.
tion to carry gunpowder, explosive shells, detonating-bombs, or suchlike, by our passenger trains; but yet if any traveller fills his portmanteau with Congreve rockets instead of linsey-woolsey, we have no help for it.
The carpet-bag you have just kicked back into its place under the opposite seat may be choke-full of the most inflammable and explosive ingredients, so that it was little short of a miracle that you, and all the others in your compartment, were not blown to the height of St Paul's. Was it ever suggested, however, that all luggage should be carefully rifled and examined before a train started, and that astute and intelligent practical chemists should be engaged to determine the contents of any suspicious phial or mysterious-looking powder, carefully investigating so-called hairwashes and pretended shavingsoaps? I am afraid the practice I would but ill conduce to that rapidity of transit for whose sake
we start with a train in front and a train behind, and a bewildered station-master and a stupid signalman. In good sooth, no one would endure it; and yet apply the difficulties of the luggage to the men, and you have at once all the embarrassments under which these Boards of Direction are now labouring.
There is not, in one word, any possible mode of ascertaining what sort of person is about to be conveyed from London to Exeter, any more than what may be the contents of his valise or his writing-desk.
It would be perfectly charming if there was any diagnostic process by which passengers could be sorted and distributed, and the care by which the small box marked fragile is separated from the rude contact of some coarse material applied to humanity.
Unhappily this is not so, and the most delicately - fashioned organisations are now obliged to take their chance in juxtaposition with all that is coarse, ill - bred, and brutal. But what an Elysium would the rail be if this great discovery could be effected! Imagine the station - master calling out, "The gentleman with the brown mustache here with these ladies; the stout gentleman next compartment with the parties for Stockport. This
way, ma'am ; there is the nurserytrain. Not there, sir, if you please; the rowdies are in that carriage yonder." This, I regret to say, cannot be; and so long as goats can afford the fare, they are free to travel with sheep, and even with lambs.
It is clear enough, so far as prevention goes, the railway folk are powerless; and yet prevention is the great desideratum; because, no matter what amount of surveillance you establish-what rapid communication with the guard-what cooperation with passengers in the adjoining carriage,—a row in a compartment will always be a most unpleasant incident, and its due investigation a matter of no small difficulty. The aggressive indivi
dual may have a colleague, apparently unacquainted with him—a Pal, as the slang would call himready to depose in his favour, and so to confuse testimony, that if the guard were not astute as Baron Martin, and as much master of the Law of Evidence, he might most excusably be puzzled which side to believe, and hesitate to determine whether the lady complainant was an injured innocence or an outraged and offended Dido. Indeed, one has only to imagine for a moment the power of a restless, capricious, irritable passenger to summon to his or her aid a railway-guard at any instant to adjudicate upon some supposed grievance, to make railroad travel the most refined species of mental torture ever conceived by man. Fancy a police-court, with the chance of a collision and a smash-and certainly the prospect is not enticing; and yet this is exactly what we should have. The timorous invalid in the double blanket yonder, is alarmed that his vis-à-vis has a leather case slung round him that may contain a telescope, but not impossibly may hold a revolver. He does not like his look; his eye is cold and stern; he is abrupt of speech, and has a short, sharp way of replying when addressed. The other passengers have got out, and he is alone with this stranger, who has now divested himself of his overcoat and thrown his gloves into his hat-preparations, and for what? The terrified rings at once to summon the guard, and to whisper his fears-fears so palpably expressed, and so plainly acknowledged, that the stranger cannot for a moment doubt he is regarded as a murderer. Meanwhile the uneasy virtue in the next carriage is screaming for aid, because a bagman has stuck a glass in his eye, and is emulating the admiring stare of Lord Dundreary.
The incessant and frivolous appeals of silly, unreasonable, and affected travellers would soon demonstrate that the worst miseries of the rail are not the physical perils, but all the varying moods
and capricious humours of a vexed humanity.
I repeat, therefore, the Direction can do very little. They can establish a periodical inspection, and send a guard down the train at intervals to peep into the cages and see that the beasts are not tearing each other; or if they be, that they are tearing the animal that was the first to spring on the others beyond this they are powerless. What is then to be done? I have thought much over the subject, and, I grieve to say, without any great light having broken in upon me. At last, however, an expedient did present itself to my mind, which, if not capable of meeting all the difficulties of the case, certainly will serve to lighten and diminish many of the ills which now render English railroads something worse than Hounslow and Bagshot in the days of Dick Turpin. This is the age of qualifications. To enable a man to be one thing, he must first of all show that he has been something else, albeit occasionally very different. To be a "Commissioner" anywhere, you must have been a barrister of six years' standing; though what the aforesaid six years represented, except idleness, bitter beer, newspaper reporting, and cigars, I never met the man who could tell me. To be a tide-waiter, or a police constable, or a gauger, or a ForeignOffice clerk, you must not only undergo examination in Ollendorf and Colenso, but be a proficient in a variety of things that the day after your appointment you will sweep from your brain as so much unprofitable rubbish.
Now let us apply this system to the rail. Let every man who travels, and who does not sometimes, provide himself with a certificate as to character, signed by two householders, and countersigned by a physician. They need be neither long-winded nor diffuse; indeed, brevity, which is the soul of wit, is the quintessence of wisdom. By producing this a small piece of card, we shall say when he de
mands his ticket at the pay-office, the clerk is enabled at once to assign him his suitable and appropriate place in the train. A very few initial letters, whose signification may be immediately acquired, will serve every purpose of indication. Thus, a gentleman asking a firstclass for Chester, hands in his card marked "P. S.," and is at once recognised to be Perfectly Safe. Another, with a mere "S." (Safe), will be accepted as one with a somewhat inferior amount of surety; "H." would imply Hazardous, and demand a certain amount of precaution; while "D. T.," no longer symbolic of spirituous insanity, would inspire an extreme watchfulness, as signifying Dangerous in a Tunnel.
You will say, however, that no man would willingly carry about with him a written and authorised disparagement of his character, that he never would expose to public gaze a declaration that pronounced him a "D. L." (not Deputy-Lieutenant, however, but Dangerous to Ladies); but there you would be wrong, since, in default of even this qualified amount of character, he would be obliged to travel in a certain compartment called the 'Unqualified Car," where every species of unwarranted rascal and vagabond entered without question. Better a thousand times the meekest voucher for a man's good behaviour, the mildest assurance of possible good-conduct, than this complete outlawry!
What immense facilities would the system offer to travel! The timid elderly gentleman or the nervous lady, by a very small addition to her fare, could journey with a company warranted "S. R." (Safe and Respectable); while harder organisations would practise a courageous economy by entering the compartment labelled "G. C." (Generally Correct); and a still bolder class, trusting to self-protection, would step into the smokingvan, where "Latakia" was permitted, and ladies came "if they liked it."
MOUNTAINEERS AND BALLOONERS.
I like harmless associations. I am always pleased to hear of "Antiquarian Societies;" "Horticultural Unions," and even Clubs for the Collection of Beetles and Butterflies, find favour with me; and one of the chief reasons of my esteem for them is, that they are usually modest and unobtrusive. Your collector is ordinarily a peaceful, retiring, self-contained man; his coin, or his manuscript,or his fragment of majolica completely engross him; and, if they render him indifferent to the great interests and events around him, they also serve to make him very tolerant of others who take a different view of life and its duties. Besides this, they now and then emerge from the dark recesses of their lucubrations, and contribute a noticeable fact or two to the mass of our knowledge. There is, however, one Society whose members are constantly thrusting themselves before public attention, inviting observation as to their doings, and asking interest for their exploits, which has ever appeared to me the most absurd, the most uninteresting, and the most barren of all useful results, of all known associations. I mean the Alpine Club."
Why men should form themselves into a club to climb mountains, has no more common sense in it than that they should unite to have their hair cut or their teeth extracted in common.
A Whist Club, a Driving Club, a Cricket Club, has its significance. You want co-operation, and you unite to secure that amount of companionship which your pursuit requires; but what division of witwhat reciprocity of skill-is there in tramping over a glacier? What you need is a guide and a pair of strong shoes. But why associate yourself with others for this? You cannot affect to say that a single fact in science-a single useful or even curious observation-has ever
resulted from your union. You have gone up to the Grands-Mulets or the Col du Géant, and you have come down again-two events interesting doubtless to yourself, but of no more moment to the world to which you publish them than the name and birthplace of the peasant who made your alpenstock. Now I do not object to this mode of passing your time, only provided that you are not vainglorious enough to write letters about it in the newspapers. Be pleased to bear in mind that if every one was to record some remarkable incident in life, simply because it possessed a great interest for himself, we should have our newspapers filled with details more personal than pleasing. One gentleman would have to record his having drunk twenty-one tumblers of whisky-punch at a sitting; other his having eaten six pounds of beef-steak at a meal,-feats just as curious and fully as perilous as the ascent of Mont Blanc. Climb your mountain, in God's name; go up eight or ten thousand feet above the sea, and take your fill of frostbites and ophthalmia and embarrassed respiration, and come down again when you've had enough of them; all I ask is, don't ask me to read about you-don't swagger down into Chamouni with the little band in front of you, as if you were a hero, and had done something beyond blistering your feet and inflaming your eyelids. For all that is useful in human nature, you are not a whit better than a dancing dervish. He, like you, puts himself out of the pale of society and Windsor soap for a period, and I never knew any one that liked his company the better for it.
Now, let it not be supposed that I who write this am one who hold cheap manly exercises and athletic pursuits. A late critic-he was a Cockney, to be sure-in noticing a volume of these lucubrations,
describes me as a laudator temporis acti, and consequently would persuade the world that I am, as regards muscular Christianity, on the retired list. To this I beg to answer, that I am ready to row, ride, swim, spar, or pitch_a_sledge with him to-morrow; and that I pledge myself, if he be the better man, to give him all the honour of his victory in a future page.
Your pleasant men are, besides, very rarely pedestrians. Horsemen and yachting-men are almost always companionable. The pursuit that exacts too much physical labour, is an enemy to that repose of mind so essential to agreeability. The strain on the tendons is felt on the intellect; and the fellow, weighted with hobnailed shoes and shrouded with a blue gauze veil, is not in the condition favourable to easy genial talk, and that light gossip that are so enjoyable. Mind that I distinguish the Mountaineer, the man of glaciers and crevasses, here, from the pleasant fellow who strolls with you after breakfast through the plantations, talking of everything, from the poet Tennyson to Piedmontese truffles. There is a certain business-like preoccupied air in your regular walker, that gives him a strong resemblance to the pennypostman. You see that he has a number of distinct places to visit, and that he is conning over in his mind his "addresses" as he goes.
Take all the pleasantest men of your acquaintance, and tell me frankly how few are there Mountaineers amongst them; and did you ever meet an Alpine Clubbist that you didn't wish at the top of the Righi ?
Is there not an intolerable sameness in all their talk? Is it not always the same story of the "steps cut with the hatchet," and of "the rope that was too short"? Have you not the brave bold guide and the bad stupid one as regularly as Hogarth's two apprentices; and are you not heartily sick-I amof "We were distinctly seen from
Chamouni, and could plainly hear the salute of guns with which they welcomed our appearance on the summit"?
I never read one of these descriptions without envying the inhabitants of Holland, and thinking what a blessing it must be to live where there are no Alps, and consequently no bores to climb them.
But there is another objection to this sort of fraternity. The great mass of men cannot afford to do anything extraordinary or uncommon without becoming positively insupportable. We all of us have some experiences of the creature who has been up the Nile, and talked sphinxes and pelicans till wished him under the Great Pyramid. Your Alps walker is, however, a greater infliction again, for he insists on dashing his explorings with a touch of personal heroism. It was he who did or did not do something but for which the whole party would have been precipitated, or engulfed, or swept away, heaven knows how or where.
There is but one condition on which I could forgive these mountain-climbers-which is, that they would not come down again.
Next to these in order of utter uselessness are the people who go up in balloons, and who come down to tell us of the temperature, the air-currents, the shape of the clouds, and amount of atmospheric pressure in a region where nobody wants to go, nor has the slightest interest to hear about.
Is there any one, I ask, who couldn't write a balloon ascent just as amusing as those we read of every week in the papers?
You start with the account of all the cubic feet of gas employed in the inflation, and then you proceed to describe how all Kent or Surrey, or wherever it was, lay beneath you like a map, and " we could see the Thames meandering for miles like a silver thread." Then come clouds, and a smart shower of rain, and two loud claps, "louder than any thunder, made by the sudden col