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We bid you welcome ! and hope each may find
A little hearty laughter from you all.
Just before the Christmas holidays (or perhaps on the fifth of November) I wrote a slight serio-comic play, the subject being “Guy Faux." While following history pretty closely as to the chief characters and events, I purposely introduced a number of anachronisms, as umbrellas, macintoshes, lucifer matches, half-farthings then just issued. I also made use of some modern slang, and concluded with a somewhat mockheroic speech by the judge when sentencing the criminal. The boys acted their parts very well, and the performance was quite a success.
Early in the following year (February, 1846) I received the totally unexpected news of the death of my brother William at Neath. He had been in London to give evidence before a committee on the South Wales Railway Bill, and returning at night caught a severe cold by being chilled in a wretched third-class carriage, succeeded by a damp bed at Bristol. This brought on congestion of the lungs, to which he speedily succumbed. I and my brother John went down to Neath to the funeral, and as William had died without a will, we had to take out letters of administration. Finding from my brother's papers that he had obtained a small local business, and that there was railway work in prospect, I determined to take his place, and at once asked permission of Mr. Hill to be allowed to leave at Easter.
My year spent at Leicester had been in many ways useful to me, and had also a determining influence on my whole future life. It satisfied me that I had no vocation for teaching, for though I performed my duties I believe quite to Mr. Hill's satisfaction, I felt myself out of place, partly because I knew no subject—with the one exception of surveying—sufficiently well to be able to teach it properly, but mainly because a completely subordinate position was distasteful to me, although I could not have had a more considerate employer than Mr. Hill. The time and opportunity I had for reading was a great advantage to me, and gave me an enduring love of good literature. I also had the opportunity of hearing almost every Sunday one of the most impressive and eloquent preachers I have ever met with Dr. John Brown, I think, was his name. He was one of the few Church of England clergymen who preached extempore, and he did it admirably so that it was a continual pleasure to listen to him. But I was too firmly convinced of the incredibility of large portions of the Bible, and of the absence of sense or reason in many of the doctrines of orthodox religion to be influenced by any such preaching, however eloquent. My return to some form of religious belief was to come much later, and from a quite different source.
But, as already stated, the events which formed a turning. point in my life were, first, my acquaintance with Bates, and through him deriving a taste for the wonders of insect-life, opening to me a new aspect of nature, and later on finding in him a companion without whom I might never have ventured on my journey to the Amazon. The other and equally important circumstance was my reading Malthus, without which work I should probably not have hit upon the theory of natural selection and obtained full credit for its independent discovery. My year spent at Leicester must, therefore, be considered as perhaps the most important in my early life.
RESIDENCE AT NEATH
At Easter I bade farewell to Leicester and went to Neath with my brother John, in order to wind up our brother William's affairs. We found from his books that a considerable amount was owing to him for work done during the past year or two, and we duly made out accounts of all these and sent them in to the respective parties. Some were paid at once, others we had to write again for and had some trouble to get paid. Others, again, were disputed as being an extravagant charge for the work done, and we had to put them in a lawyer's hands to get settled. One gentleman, whose account was a few pounds, declared he had paid it, and asked us to call on him. We did so, and, instead of producing the receipt as we expected, he was jocose about it, asked us what kind of business men we were to want him to pay twice ; and when we explained that it was not shown so in my brother's books, and asked to look at the receipt, he coolly replied, “Oh, I never keep receipts; never kept a receipt in my life, and never was asked to pay a bill twice till now !" In vain we urged that we were bound as trustees for the rest of the family to collect all debts shown by my brother's books to be due to him, and that if he did not pay it, we should have to lose the amount ourselves. He still maintained that he had paid it, that he remembered it distinctly, and that he was not going to pay it twice. At last we were obliged to tell him that if he did not pay it we must put it in the hands of a lawyer to take what steps he thought VOL. I.
necessary: then he gave way, and said, “Oh, if you are going to law about such a trifle, I suppose I must pay it again!" and, counting out the money, added, “ There it is ; but I paid it before, so give me a receipt this time," apparently considering himself a very injured man. This little experience annoyed me much, and, with others of the same nature later on, so disgusted me with business as to form one of the reasons which induced me to go abroad.
When we had wound up William's affairs as well as we could, my brother John returned to London, and I was left to see if any work was to be had, and in the mean time devoted myself to collecting butterflies and beetles. While at Leicester I had been altogether out of the business world, and do not remember even looking at a newspaper, or I might have heard something of the great railway mania which that year reached its culmination. I now first heard rumours of it, and some one told me of a civil engineer in Swansea who wanted all the surveyors he could get, and that they all had two guineas a day, and often more. This I could hardly credit, but I wrote to the gentleman, who soon after called on me, and asked me if I could do levelling. I told him I could, and had a very good level and levelling staves. After some little conversation he told me he wanted a line of levels up the Vale of Neath to Merthyr Tydfil for a proposed railway, with cross levels at frequent intervals, and that he would give me two guineas a day, and all expenses of chain and staff men, hotels, etc. He gave me all necessary instructions, and said he would send a surveyor to map the route at the same time. This was, I think, about midsummer, and I was hard at work till the autumn, and enjoyed myself immensely. It took me up the south-east side of the valley, of which I knew very little, along pleasant lanes and paths through woods and by streams, and up one of the wildest and most picturesque little glens I have ever explored. Here we had to climb over huge rocks as big as houses, ascend cascades, and take cross-levels up steep banks and precipices all densely wooded. It was surveying under difficulties, and excessively interesting. After the first rough
levels were taken and the survey made, the engineers were able to mark out the line provisionally, and I then went over the actual line to enable the sections to be drawn as required by the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
In the autumn I had to go to London to help finish the plans and reference books for Parliament. There were about a dozen surveyors, draughtsmen, and clerks in a big hotel in the Haymarket, where we had a large room upstairs for work, and each of us ordered what we pleased for our meals in the coffee-room. Towards the end of November we had to work very late, often till past midnight, and for the last few days of the month we literally worked all night to get everything completed.
In this year of wild speculation it is said that plans and sections for 1263 new railways were duly deposited, having a proposed capital of £563,000,000, and the sum required to be deposited at the Board of Trade was so much larger than the total amount of gold in the Bank of England and notes in circulation at the time, that the public got frightened, a panic ensued, shares in the new lines which had been at a high premium fell almost to nothing, and even the established lines were greatly depreciated. Many of the lines were proposed merely for speculation, or to be bought off by opposing lines which had a better chance of success. The line we were at work on was a branch of the Great Western and South Wales Railway then making, and was for the purpose of bringing the coal and iron of Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding district to Swansea, then the chief port of South Wales. But we had a competitor along the whole of our route in a great line from Swansea to Yarmouth, by way of Merthyr, Hereford, Worcester, and across the midland agricultural counties, called, I think, the East and West Junction Railway, which sounded grand, but which had no chance of passing. It competed, however, with several other lines, and I heard that many of these agreed to make up a sum to buy off its opposition. Not one-tenth of the lines proposed that year were ever made, and the money wasted upon surveyors, engineers, and law expenses must have amounted to millions.