Page images
PDF
EPUB

a sense

force, or that by some touch unseen, at some mysterious moment, it might not throw off the bonds in which it is held, and dart forth upon some appalling career of its own, unsuspected, tremendous, and destructive. The wonderful machine moves us rather as it moved Mr Ruskin than as in later days it affected the imagination of a younger poet. Even that fastidious Master in all the arts was impressed with the extraordinary sense of Being in the iron monster upon which he looked more impressive to the imagination than anything else we know of in earth or heaven. With "amazed awe," with "crushed humility," he describes himself as watching "a locomotive take its breath at a railway station." "What manner of men must they be," he cries, "who dig brown ironstone out of the ground and forge it into that: what assemblage of accurate and mighty faculties in them, more than fleshly power over melting crag and coiling fire, fettered and finessed at last into the precision of watchmaking! Titanian hammer-strokes beating out of lava those glittering cylinders and timely respondent valves and fine-ribbed rods, which touch each other as a serpent writhes, in noiseless gliding and omnipotence of grasp, infinitely complex anatomy of active steel." To ourselves the feeling produced by a great Engine is more in sympathy with that of Frankenstein after he had made his monster than of the triumphant mechanician who first overcame all difficulties, the resistance of the dead things in which he worked and of every passive force of nature, and at last compelled the senseless thing to work and whirl and breathe at his will. The Thing once made cannot be unmade again, whatever might be the turn

its forces might take. It might hate and destroy the race it was made to serve like the other monster of flesh and blood. It is difficult not to put a mind into it, a purpose of its own, a possibility of action, if at any time some unsuspected new influence might get at that "anatomy of steel." The Röntgen rays were a great surprise, showing what things unseen were hid in the visible, and sending the thrill as of a first perception of many latent wonders into the mind. What if among those hidden yet revealable powers of the atmosphere there might be something which would supply the artful combination of screw and valve and piston with force and motion of its own? No one, we suppose, ever ministered to an engine without feeling a personality in it. Nay, there is not a little boat but is She, a creature full of life, exacting, capricious, fantastical to those whose lives are dependent on her.

Mr Kipling has given us this view in the strongest presentation, when he claims for his great Sea - engine, as it tramps across the waters, faithful and obedient, keeping its beat to the minute, responding to the eager hand that hastens its pace for human purposes, always dutiful to the skilled touch, like the finest and most delicate of sentient beings - the credit of being the Romance incarnate and great fairy tale of our later days. "Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song o' Steam!" cries M'Andrew the engineer, throwing himself with enthusiasm into the description of those iron thews and sinews that form the Being and the joy of life, one of the highest of mortal sentiments, which inspires its perfect organisation. Has not this great created thing

its part, he asks almost indignantly, in the universal song of praise?

"The crank-throws give the double bass,

the feed-pump sobs and heaves, And now the main eccentrics start their quarrel on the sheaves; Her time, her own appointed time, the rocking linkhead bides,

Till hear that note? the rod's return whings glimmering through the guides.

They're all awa'! true beat, full power,

the clanging chorus goes, Clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purring dynamoes: Interdependence absolute, foreseen, ordained, decreed,

To work, ye'll note, at any tilt and

every rate of speed; Frae skylight lift to furnace - bars, backed, bolted, braced, and stayed, And singing like the morning stars for

joy that they are made; While out o' touch o' vanity the sweating thrust-block says, 'Not unto us the praise, or man-not unto us the praise !'

Now a' together hear them lift their lesson-theirs and mine, 'Law, order, duty, an' restraint, Obedi

ence, Discipline':

[blocks in formation]

This new embodiment of life and power, this Jin, this Afreet, has been, perhaps, the greatest distinction, as it is the strongest vassal, of Queen Victoria's empire. It was not the creation of the age it was but a feeble undeveloped creature, moving gingerly upon its few first errands, rustling with primitive paddle-wheels from one home port to another, making little runs here and there on land from one town to another, when this auspicious reign began. We were still as far from India, from America, from the ends of the

world in general, notwithstanding that we had colonies and possessions round all the circle of the Our children were conveyed inseas, as in the days of Elizabeth. deed in ships that perhaps sailed more swiftly, but were little more commodious, than those of Drake and Anson; and otherwise we were still as far away from them as when the Spanish galleons held the main and were the objects of pursuit instead of peaceful commerce and trade. The seas were brave with white sailed ships, great towers of swelling canvas, far more graceful and beautiful than those monsters of the deep with which we are so familiar now; but were we turned back again to the number and the capabilities of our navies, mercantile or national, then, Britain would be ruined, and have lost her empire of the seas. When the first steamer went away groping into the darkness of the great Atlantic, with what anxiety and wonder did all hearts beat. Would she ever reach that dim and distant shore? Would the sound of her rushing paddles and the pressure of her steam carry wonder and delight to the world of the West? or would they disappear among the icebergs and never be heard of more?

There seemed at first a kind of sanction out of the unknown to all terrors and alarms. The powers of nature rose against one at least of those strange pioneers. The President disappeared without a word into the dark, and her fate has been but conjectured, never known. known. This might have seemed to an earlier age a sign that heaven itself forbade such hazards: but Science, inaccessible to fear, indifferent to loss, counting human

1 Mr Kipling does his Scotch wonderfully well, as he does most things; but it should be gi'en (past participle), not gied (past tense).

life and interest no more than its iron and steel, or, perhaps, counting human interest in the longrun more important than the trifling sacrifices of to-day, never winced. And year by year this great Servant of the Queen has gone farther and farther, trampling and churning the stillest seas, marking out the most obscure seapaths, triumphing silently and steadily over every difficulty; and making our exiled children scarcely farther off from us than they would have been in the distant corners of the island when the reign began. The children of the Victorian age, now the mature men and women who carry on its business, have never known the other state of affairs. They cannot look back upon a time when the sea was silent, and no smoke on the horizon betrayed the quick-coming messenger, the punctual post, the ready service. The great Slave has been born in our household, like Abraham's steward: his feats are too familiar to cause us any surprise we confide our best to him without a fear of his fidelity. No Frankenstein, though fancy may still play with that thought and laugh at itself for the whim; but the chief servant in our father's house, the strongest and surest messenger of the Queen.

At home, the same patient Vassal, not standing upon his dignity, goes our errands night and day, stands and spins webs enough to cover the earth, beats out ever new creatures of his own kind, multiplying his race for almost every practical purpose under the

sun.

In 1837 the steadiest mind still doubted whether a cow astray on his lines might not wreck his going, and declared it as easy to ride to the skies on a rocket as to cross the country at the rate of twenty miles an hour. We believe

there were great searchings of heart when the young Queen first set foot at Slough on the train that was to carry her from Windsor to London. Now she confides herself, and is confided cheerfully by us, which is more to the purpose, in one which sweeps across the Continent, and sleeps as if in her bed at home, while her Servant carries her lightly towards the sunshine and the flowers.

It

But there is another magic henchman holding the other side of the gate of life, a being more mysterious still, invisible, inhabiting a thread, a wire not so thick as your finger. It is curious to know that this second Gnome or Afreet waited for the just moment to have its first patent made out in the name of Victoria-triumphant and symbolical name, expressive of all the victories. had been playing about the surface of the world in dazzling yet capricious glances, but rose and put itself in kindly fetters instantly, to obey the mandates of the young Queen. At first we were shy of this strange, silent, invisible Slave, and only ventured to employ him upon solemn messages, making him rather the messenger of death than of life, feeling it a sort of profanation to charge him lightly with words of little meaning, or acknowledge him as the cheerful servant of the house. When telegrams began first to fly about the world, simple folk regarded them with terror, feeling that internal conviction, which is so near to every one of us, that sorrow and trouble were the most likely things to arrive upon us thus suddenly out of the unknown. But there are few who are fluttered out of their composure now by any such familiar reason. This wonderful Agent is at once more and less impressive than his brother Genius

His spiritual part, the swiftness, the silence, the invisibility, thrill the mind when we find ourselves by his means almost touching the hand of a friend thousands of miles away; but the tools by which he reveals himself are singularly unimpressive, and possess nothing of the tremendous material being which awes and overwhelms the mind when we see a great engine clanging, and plunging, and whirling his wheels through the daylight. It is said that the wires were twice removed from the side of the first enterprising line that set them up, because they were so ugly! Think of that among all the contented ugliness of the early Victorian age! There is more possibility of being fanciful about them now, when they stretch like a blank score of music across the sky everywhere, shrilling by times an Eolian note of their own, waiting for the music to be breathed into them, and in the meantime playing with the little birds who find a momentary repose, a sort of rest-andbe-thankful perch, high amid the airs of heaven! Now there are all sorts of whimsical and cheerful associations gathering about them. We hear sometimes of an expected birth, by a freak of time and space, before it has occurred, so to speak, and drink the health of the newborn by a clock which has not yet sounded his birth - hour on the other side of the world!

We feel half ashamed of ourselves for proclaiming these wonders. Is not this the sphere of the penny-a-liner, who daily to the listening earth proclaims the story of these triumphs, with much shedding of adjectives? It is very well to laugh at the penny-a-liner, but what can the soberest narrator do but shed adjectives also, when he has to record the wonders of a

-

Is

reign which has brought forth so many? When the Queen came to the throne the world was wrapt in perennial silence, as when Columbus sailed into the unknown. Now it thrills with sound around all the spheres, and in the twinkling of an eye your friend's voice comes back, in keen or kind response, from the end of the world. not this something to rave about! When we were young- But you cry out, Oh, no more, please, about the Electric Telegraph; don't we know everything that can be said on that subject? It puts a girdle round the earth, &c. It brings news of the son to the mother, the husband to the wife; also of the precise moment to sell out your shares at an advantage; please, no more of it! And we submit: we are of that opinion, too, in ordinary circumstances. Can anything be so vulgar and ugly, filling the air above us and the earth beneath us with its odious wires: how careless the little clerks are at the side offices, too much taken up by their gossip to attend to you: what a bore it is to be pelted with yellow envelopes by all sort of insignificant people, explaining how they cannot dine with you (as if you ever wanted them, save for civility!), or how sorry they were not to see you when you called (a circumstance for which you yourselves gave thanks to Providence). Well! we leave this second Afreet to commend himself, as he does in almost every new combination of circumstances, to everybody's business and bosom. It would be a dark day for us all were we to be deprived of the aid of this Servant of the Queen.

Other "easements," like those which Jeanie Deans recorded gratefully on her long and terrible journey into England, have come to us along with the greater aids

of science. Jeanie Deans's journey is made in some hours now, and without any expenditure of personal energy, a trifling matter not to be thought of. We have often thought, however, that among the grievances which the French think they have against us, the practical subtraction from them of one of the greatest works of modern times, which was not our work, is a very real grievance indeed. We did not make the Suez Canal, we would not even join in making it. We laughed at it, wonderful to relate, taking our cue from a powerful but flippant Minister; and when that nation flew to work with an amount of feeling and enthusiasm which we seldom manifest, we continued to jeer like Lord Palmerston until there came a moment when the jeer dropped, or was turned upon ourselves. They made that great work: but it is we who have the advantage, and have got the control into our own hands. If France dislikes this, we can only say she has very good reason, and that it is natural she should. It may be partially her own fault, nevertheless it is apparent that it was a very fortunate thing for us. The next generation, at least the uninstructed part of it, will probably refuse to believe that it was French science and enterprise which dug that dull ditch with its yellow sides out of the sand, and made things so convenient for us as we come and go to our Indian possessions. Perhaps let us flatter ourselves, that at least it was we who showed them the way. For before de Lesseps had stirred, or the first sod was cut, we had already begun to land at Alexandria and rattle across the desert in the most wretched of pseudo-railways, doing after a clumsier and easier method

what the French did more effectually by the permanent waterway. Our route was called the Overland Route, with much pretension and discomfort; and it was the first attempt to shorten the long voyage, or bring India within closer reach. Our eastern possessions up to that time were scarcely nearer to us than when John Company first set foot upon their shores.

This wonderful change has altered our relations in many ways with our great dependency, gradually making the conditions of intercourse so different and so much easier than of old, that Britain has an additional chance of coming to understand India, and India to know more or less what Britain means—a still more difficult matter. Going to India, once almost the sacrifice of a life, for many of the men in former days who filled the Services were twenty, thirty years in unbroken exile,-has now become a pleasure-trip for the wealthy, a possibility for all. A young civilian or officer no longer hesitates to use his three months' leave in a visit home-six weeks at home being, he feels, "good enough," with all its reopenings of kindness and refreshings of mind, for the expenditure required. How the old nabobs would have stared at the rush home for six weeks of their young successors! There are no nabobs now the life of the West flows freely to the Orient; that of the East, if not so freely, yet with a fulness extraordinary among those races, tends towards the West, prejudice and terror of the black water, and the inevitable (but temporary) loss of caste notwithstanding.

This, however, is not the only change in India since the Queen's

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »