About two hundred and fifty years ago, some genius, as unknown as the inventor of the lathe, laid the first wooden tramroad, to enable a horse to draw forty-two cwt. instead of seventeen. The coalowners soon used it largely. In 1738, iron rails were invented; but prejudice, stronger than that metal, kept them down, and the wooden ones in vogue, for some thirty years. Then iron prevailed.

Meantime, a much greater invention had been creeping up to join the metal way; I mean the locomotive power of steam, whose history is not needed here. Enough that in 1804 took place as promising a wedding as civilisation ever saw; for then an engine built by Trevethick, a great genius frittered for want of pluck, drew carriages, laden with ten tons, five miles an hour on a Welsh railway. Next stout Stephenson came on the scene, and insisted on benefiting mankind in spite of themselves, and of shallow legislators, a priori reasoners, and a heavy Review whose political motto was, "Stemus super antiquas vias;" which may be rendered, "Better stand still on turnpikes than move on rails."

His torments and triumph are history.

Two of his repartees seem neat. To Lord Noodle, or Lord Doodle, which was it? objecting haughtily, "And suppose a cow should get in the way of your engine, sir?" he replied, "Why, then it would be bad — for the coow." The objector had overrated the obstructive power of his honoured parent. To the a priori reasoners, who sat in their studies and demonstrated with complete unanimity that uncogged wheels would revolve on a smooth rail, but leave the carriage in statu quo, he replied by buildin an engine with Lord Ravensworth's noble aid, hooking on eight carriages, and rattling off up an incline. "Solvitur ambulando," quoth Stephenson the stout-hearted to Messrs. A Priori.

Next a coach ran on the Stockton and Darlington rail. Next the Liverpool and Manchester line was projected. Oh, then, what bitter opposition to the national benefactors, and the good of man!

Awake from the tomb echoes of dead Cant.

"The revolving wheels might move the engine on a rail; but what would that avail if they could not move them in the closet, and on a mathematical paper? Railways would be bad for canals, bad for morals, bad for highwaymen, bad for roadside inns the smoke would kill the partridges ("Aha! thou hast touched us nearly," said the country gentlemen), the travellers would go slowly to their destination, but swift to destruction." And the Heavy Review, whose motto was "Stemus super turnpikes," offered "to back old Father Thames against the Woolwich railway for any sum. And Black Will, who drove the next heaviest ephemeral [stagecoach] in the island, told a schoolboy, who now writes these pages, "there's nothing can ever be safe at twenty miles an hour, without 'tis a bird in the air;" and confirmed it with an oath. Briefly, buzz! buzz! buzz! — Hard Cash (1863)

Related material

Created 7 February 2006

Last modified 5 April 2020