20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 451 Volume 18, New Series, August 21, 1852


No. 451. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, AUGUST 21, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


A contest of a very remarkable kind is now going on, one which is
pregnant with important results in respect to commerce, to naval
architecture, to geographical discovery, to colonisation, to the
spread of intelligence, to the improvement of industrial art, and to
the balance of political power among nations. The nature of this
contest cannot be better made intelligible than by giving the words of
a challenge recently put forth: 'The American Navigation Company
challenge the ship-builders of Great Britain to a ship-race, with
cargo on board, from a port in England to a port in China and back.
One ship to be entered by each party, and to be named within a week of
the start. The ships to be modelled, commanded, and officered entirely
by citizens of the United States and Great Britain respectively; to be
entitled to rank "A 1" either at the American offices or at Lloyd's.
The stakes to be L.10,000, and satisfactorily secured by both parties;
to be paid without regard to accidents, or to any exceptions; the
whole amount forfeited by either party not appearing. Judges to be
mutually chosen. Reasonable time to be given after notice of
acceptance, to build the ships, if required, and also for discharging
and loading cargo in China. The challenged party may name the size of
the ships--not under 800 nor over 1200 American register tons; the
weight and measurement which may be carried each way; and the
allowance for short weight or oversize.'

There is a boldness, a straightforwardness, an honesty in this
challenge, which cannot be mistaken. It is difficult to be interpreted
in any other sense than that the challengers _mean_ what they say.
Brother Jonathan has fairly thrown down the gauntlet to the
Britishers, and it behoves the latter to take it up in a becoming
spirit. Our ship-builders, especially on the Dee, the Clyde, the Wear,
the Mersey, and the Thames, ought to feel that much is now expected
from them; for if once the Yankees obtain a reputation--a European
reputation it will then be--for outstripping British ships on the
broad seas, our ship-owners will assuredly feel the effects in a
commercial sense.

This question of the speed of ships is a very curious one. Empirical
rules, rather than scientific principles, have hitherto determined the
forms which shall be given to ships. Smith adopts a certain form
because Brown's ship sailed well, whereas Jones's differently shaped
vessel was a bad sailer; although Smith, Brown, and Jones collectively
may be little able to shew _why_ one of the vessels should sail better
than the other.

If opportunity should occur to the reader to visit a large
ship-building establishment, such as those on any one of the five
rivers named above, he will see something like the following routine
of operation going on:--

There is, first, the 'ship's draughtsman,' whose duties are somewhat
analogous to those of the architect of a house, or the engineer of a
railway, or the scientific cutter at a fashionable tailor's: he has to
shape the materials out of which the structure is to be built up, or
at least he has to shew others how it is to be done. When the
ship-builder has received an order, we will say, to construct a ship,
and has ascertained for what route, and for what purpose, and of what
size it is to be, he and his ship's draughtsman 'lay their heads
together' to devise such an arrangement of timbers as will meet the
requirements of the case. Here it is that a _science_ of ship-building
would be valuable; the practical rules followed are deductions not so
much from general principles as from accumulated facts which are
waiting to be systematised; and until this process has been carried
further, ship-building will be an _art_, but not a _science_. Well,
then; the draughtsman, gathering up all the crumbs of knowledge
obtainable from various quarters, puts his wisdom upon paper in the
form of drawings and diagrams, to represent not only the dimensions of
the vessel, but the sizes and shapes of the principal timbers which
are to form it, on the scale, perhaps, of a quarter of an inch to a
foot. Then this very responsible personage goes to his 'mould-loft,'
on the wide-spreading floor of which he chalks such a labyrinth of
lines as bewilder one even to look at. These lines represent the
actual sizes and shapes of the different parts of the ship, with
curvatures and taperings of singularly varied character. One floor of
one room thus contains full-sized contours of all the timbers for the

So far, then, the draughtsman. Next, under his supervision, thin
planks of deal are cut to the contours of all these chalk-lines; and
these thin pieces, called _moulds_, are intended to guide the sawyers
in cutting the timbers for the ship. A large East Indiaman requires
more than a hundred mould-pieces, chalked and marked in every

Another skilful personage, called the 'converter,' then makes a tour
of the timber-yard, and looks about for all the odd, crooked, crabbed
trunks of oak and elm which he can find; well knowing that if the
natural curvature of a tree accords somewhat with the required
curvature of a ship's timber, the timber will be stronger than if cut
from a straight trunk. He has the mould-pieces for a guide, and
searches until he has ferreted out all the timbers wanted. Then he
sets the sawyers to work, who, with the mould-pieces always at hand,
shape the large trunks to the required form. And here it may be noted
as a remarkable fact, that although we live in such a steam-engine and
machine-working age, very few engines or machines afford aid in sawing
ships' timbers. The truth seems to be, that the curvatures are so
numerous and varied, that machine-sawing would scarcely be applicable.
Yet attempts are from time to time made to construct such machines. Mr
Cochran has invented one; and it is said that at the Earl of Rosse's
first soirée as president of the Royal Society, a model of this
timber-cutting machine was exhibited; that Prince Albert cut a
miniature timber with it; and that he thus began an apprenticeship to
the national art of ship-building.

Leaving the supposed visitor to a ship-yard to trace the timbers
through all their stages of progress, we will proceed with that which
is more directly the object of the present paper--namely, the relation
of _speed_ to _build_. Some sixteen or eighteen years ago, the British
Association rightly conceived that its Mechanical Section would be
worthily occupied in an inquiry concerning the forms of ships, and the
effect of form on the speed and steadiness. The inquiry was intrusted
to Mr Scott Russell and Mr (afterwards Sir John) Robison; and
admirably has it been carried out. Mr Scott Russell, especially, has
sought to establish something like a _science_ of form in
ship-building--precisely the thing which would supply a proper basis
for the artificers.

It is interesting to see how, year after year, this committee of two
persons narrated the result of their unbought and unpaid labours to
the Association. In 1838 and 1839, they shewed how a solid moving in
the water produced a particular kind of wave; how, at a certain
velocity, the solid might ride on the _top_ of the wave, without
sinking into the hollow; how, if the external form of a vessel bore a
certain resemblance to a section of this wave, the ship would
encounter less resistance in the water than any other form; and thus
originated the _wave principle_--so much talked of in connection with
ship-building. A ship built on that principle in that year (1839) was
believed to be the fastest ship in Britain. In 1840, the committee
stated that they had 'consulted the most eminent ship-builders as to
the points upon which they most wanted information, and requested them
to point out what were the forms of vessel which they would wish to
have tried. More than 100 models of vessels of various sizes, from 30
inches to 25 feet in length, were constructed,' and an immense mass of
experiments were made on them. In 1841, they described how they had
experimented on vessels of every size, from models of 30 inches in
length to vessels of 1300 tons. In the next following year, the
committee presented a report of no fewer than 20,000 experiments on
models and ships, some of which afforded remarkable confirmation of
the efficiency of the wave principle in ship-building. Thus the
committee went on, year after year, detailing to the Association the
results of their experiments, and pointing out how the ship-builders
were by degrees giving practical value to these results.

Now, a country in which a scientific society will spend a thousand
pounds on such an inquiry, and in which scientific men will give up
days and weeks of their time to it without fee or reward, _ought_ not
to be beaten on the broad seas by any competitor. It affords an
instructive confirmation of the results arrived at by the committee,
that when some of our swiftest yachts and clippers came to be
carefully examined, it was found that the wave principle had been to a
great extent adopted in their form, in cases even where the vessels
were built before the labours of the committee had commenced. The
_art_ had in this case preceded the _science_. And let it not be
considered that any absurdity is involved here: farmers manured their
fields long before chemists were able to explain the real nature of
manuring; and so in other arts, ingenious practical men often discover
useful processes before the men of science can give the rationale of
those processes.

It may be all very well to assert, that 'Britannia rules the waves,'
and that 'Britons never will be slaves,' and so forth; only let us
prove the assertions to be _true_, or not assert at all. We must
appeal to the 'Shipping Intelligence' which comes to hand from every
side, and determine, from actual facts, whether any one country really
outsails another.

Among the facts which thus present themselves to notice, is one
relating to _clippers_. Who first gave the name of clipper to a ship,
or what the name means, we do not know; but a clipper is understood to
be a vessel so shaped as to sail faster than other vessels of equal
tonnage. It is said that these swift sailers originated in the wants
of the salmon shippers, and others at our eastern ports. A bulky,
slow-moving ship may suffice for the conveyance to London of the
minerals and manufactures of Northumberland and Durham; but salmon and
other perishable articles become seriously deteriorated by a long
voyage; and hence it is profitable in such case to sacrifice bulk to
speed. Leith, Dundee, and especially Aberdeen, are distinguished for
the speed of their vessels above those of the Tyne and the Wear; and
the above facts probably explain the cause of the difference. The
Aberdeen clipper is narrow, very keen and penetrating in front,
gracefully tapering at the stern, and altogether calculated to 'go
ahead' through the water in rapid style. As compared with one of the
ordinary old-fashioned English coasting brigs of equal tonnage, an
Aberdeen clipper will attain nearly double the speed. One of these
fine vessels, the _Chrysolite_, in a recent voyage from China,
traversed 320 nautical miles (nearly 370 English statute miles) in
twenty-four hours: this was a great performance. But it must not be
forgotten, that the United States claim to have attained a high
ship-speed before England had thought much on the matter; the
Baltimore clippers have long been known on the other side of the
Atlantic as dashing, rapid, little vessels, mostly either single or

It is to the opening of the China trade the present wonderful rivalry
may in great part be attributed. So long as European vessels were
cooped up stagnantly in Canton river, and allowed to trade only under
circumstances of great restriction and annoyance, little was effected
except by the tea-drinking denizens of Great Britain; but when, by the
treaty of Nankin in 1842, Sir Henry Pottinger obtained the opening of
the four ports of Amoy, Foo-tchow-foo, Ning-po, and Shang-hae, and
stipulated that foreign vessels should be allowed to share with those
of England the liberty of trading at those ports, there was a great
impetus given to ship-builders and ship-owners: those who had goods to
sell, thus found a new market for them; and those who could perform
the voyage most quickly, would have a quicker return for their
capital. This, following at an interval of seven or eight years the
changes made in the India trade by the East India Company's charter of
1834, brought the Americans and the French and others into the Indian
seas in great numbers. Then came the wonders of 1847, in the discovery
of Californian gold; and those of 1851, in the similar discoveries in

Now, these four dates--1834, 1842, 1847, 1851--may be considered as
four starting-points, each marked by a renewed conquest of man over
the waves, and a strengthened but not hostile rivalry on the seas
between nation and nation. So many inducements are now afforded to
merchants to transact their dealings rapidly, that the ship-builders
are beset on all sides with demands for more speed--more speed; and it
is significant to observe that, in almost every recent newspaper
account of a ship-launch, we are told how many knots an hour she is
expected to attain when fitted. Every ship seems to beat every other
ship, in the glowing language employed; but after making a little
allowance for local vanity, there is a substratum of correctness which
shews strongly how we are advancing in rate of speed.

It will really now become useful to collect and preserve records of
speed at sea, in connection with particular ships of particular build,
as a guide to future construction. Mr Henry Wise published a volume
about 1840, containing an analysis of one hundred voyages, made by
ships belonging to the East India Company, extracted from the ships'
logs preserved by the Company. It appears that an average gave 112
days as the duration of a voyage from London to Bombay. Now, within
the last few months we have seen that the _Chrysolite_, a small
clipper, built at Aberdeen for a Liverpool firm, has made the run from
England to China in 104 days; and the _Stornoway_, built at the same
place for a London firm, has accomplished the distance in 103 days.
Let the reader open his map, and compare the relative distances of
Bombay and China from England, and he will then see what a wonderful
increase of speed is implied in the above numbers. Three American
clippers were sighted during the out and home voyages of the two
vessels, and, if newspaper reports tell truly, were distanced by them.

We must not expect that the vast and unprecedented emigration to
California and Australia now going on, will be designedly and
materially connected with high speed, because most of the emigrants go
in roomy ships, at fares as low as are attainable; but goods-traffic,
and the higher class of passenger-traffic, are every month coming more
and more within the domain of high speed. Let us take two instances
which 1852 has afforded, one furnished by England, and one by
America--one connected with the Australian trade, and one with the
Chinese. The Aberdeen clipper-built barque, _Phoenician_, arrived at
Plymouth on February 3, having left Sydney on November 12, and
performed the voyage in 83 days! Her previous voyages had varied from
88 to 103 days. The other instance is that of the American clipper,
_Witch of the Wave_, a fine vessel of 1400 tons burden, which left
Canton on 5th January, and arrived in the Downs on 4th April, a period
of 90 days. Her greatest speed is said to have been 338 nautical
miles--equivalent to about 389 English miles--in 24 hours.

Thus it is, we find, that in one voyage we beat the Americans--in
another, they outstrip us; and there seems at present no reason why
either country should fail in making still further advances. The
Liverpool and New York packet-trade affords another example of the
same principle which we have been considering; gradually these truly
noble vessels are acquiring an increased rate of speed. Not only does
the general desire for high speed impel their owners to this, but
there is a more direct incentive in the increased rivalry of
steam-vessels. The American 'liners,' as the sailing-packets on this
route are usually called, have had in past years an average of about
36 days outward passage, and 24 days homeward; but they are now
shooting ahead unmistakably. The _Racer_, built at New York in 1851,
and placed upon the Liverpool station, is a magnificent clipper of
1700 tons register; it made its first voyage from New York to
Liverpool in 14 days--a quickness not only exceeding that of its
predecessors, but leaving nearly all of them many days in arrear. Even
this, however, was shortly afterwards excelled; for another new
clipper, the _Washington_, accomplished the distance in a little over
13-1/2 days.

The pleasure-vessels which are so numerous in the south of England,
belonging to the several yacht-clubs, are sharing in the modern
speed-producing improvements observable in other vessels. Every one
has heard of the yacht _America_, which arrived at Cowes from the
United States in July 1851, and of the challenge which her owners
threw out against English yacht-owners. Every one knows that the
_America_ beat the yachts which were fitted against her. This victory
has led to an immense activity on the part of yacht-builders in
England; they are studying all the peculiarities in the build and the
trim of the yachts belonging to the different ports and different
countries; and we are justified by every analogy in expecting, that
good results will spring out of wits thus sharpened.

Although we have not deemed it necessary in the present paper to touch
on the national struggle between steam-ships, we must not forget that
one of the most promising and valuable features in steam navigation
arose as an appendage to sailing. The _auxiliary screw_ will deserve
the blessings of our colonists, for reasons which may be soon told.
When it was yet uncertain what result would mark the contest _Screw_
v. _Paddle_, it was suggested that the screw-propeller might probably
be used as an auxiliary power, for occasional use during calms and
contrary winds; the vessel to be a sailing-vessel under ordinary
circumstances; but to have a marine engine and a screw for exigencies
at times when the ship would be brought to a stand-still or even
driven backwards. About seven years ago, an American packet-ship, the
_Massachusetts_, a complete sailing-vessel in other respects, was
provided with a screw and a steam-engine powerful enough to keep the
ship moving when winds and tides were adverse; the screw was capable
of being lifted out of the water when not in use. In her first voyage
from Liverpool to America, this ship gained from five to thirteen days
as compared with five other ships which sailed either on the same or
the following day. This experiment was deemed so far successful, that
the Admiralty ordered, in 1846, an auxiliary screw to be fitted to the
_Amphion_ frigate, then building at Woolwich. Another example was the
_Sarah Sands_, an iron ship of 1300 tons; she had engines of 180
horse-power, much below that requisite for an ordinary steamer of the
same size. She could carry three classes of passengers, coal for the
whole voyage, and 900 tons of merchandise. She made four voyages in
1847, two out and two home; and in 1848 she made five: her average
time was about nineteen days out, and seventeen days home, and she
usually passed about six liners on the voyage.

The speed here mentioned is not quite equal to that of the truly
remarkable clippers noticed above, but it far exceeded that of any
liner at work in 1848. The example was followed in other vessels; and
then men began to cherish the vision of a propeller screwing its way
through the broad ocean to our distant colonies. From this humble
beginning as an auxiliary, the screw has obtained a place of more and
more dignity, until at length we see the mails for the Cape and for
Australia intrusted confidently to its safe-keeping.

The icy regions of the north are braved by the auxiliary screw. The
little _Isabel_, fitted out almost entirely at the expense of Lady
Franklin to aid in the search for her gallant husband, is a brigantine
of 180 tons, with an auxiliary screw to ship and unship. The
_Intrepid_ and the _Pioneer_, the two screw-steamers which form part
of Sir Edward Belcher's arctic expedition--lately started from
England--are to work with or without their auxiliary appendage as
circumstances may determine.

The present article, however, will shew that sailing is not less alive
and busy than steaming; and that the yachts and clippers of both
nations are probably destined to a continuous series of improvements.
When these improvements--whether by aid of scientific societies and
laborious experiments, or by the watchful eye and the shrewd
intelligence of ship-builders, or by both combined--have advanced
steadily to a point perhaps far beyond that which we have yet
attained, then, if at all, may we trouble ourselves about the
question--'Who shall rule the waves?'


Number Nineteen in our street is a gloomy house, with a blistered door
and a cavernous step; with a hungry area and a desolate frontage. The
windows are like prison-slips, only a trifle darker, and a good deal
dirtier; and the kitchen-offices might stand proxies for the Black
Hole of Calcutta, barring the company and the warmth. For as to
company, black beetles, mice, and red ants, are all that are ever seen
of animated nature there, and the thermometer rarely stands above
freezing-point. Number Nineteen is a lodging-house, kept by a poor old
maid, whose only friend is her cat, and whose only heirs will be the
parish. With the outward world, excepting such as slowly filter
through the rusty opening of the blistered door, Miss Rebecca Spong
has long ceased to have dealings. She hangs a certain piece of
cardboard, with 'Lodgings to Let,' printed in school-girl print,
unconscious of straight lines, across it; and this act of public
notification, coupled with anxious peepings over the blinds of the
parlour front, is all the intercourse which she and the world of men
hold together. Every now and then, indeed, a mangy cab may be seen
driving up to her worn-out step; and dingy individuals, of the kind
who travel about with small square boxes, covered with marbled paper,
and secured with knotted cords of different sizes, may be witnessed
taking possession of Nineteen, in a melancholy and mysterious way. But
even these visitations, unsatisfactory as most lodging-house keepers
would consider them, are few and far between; for somehow the people
who come and go never seem to have any friends or relations whereby
Miss Spong may improve her 'connection.' You never see the postman
stop at that desolate door; you never hear a visitor's knock on that
rusty lion's head; no unnecessary traffic of social life ever takes
place behind those dusty blinds; it might be the home of a select
party of Trappists, or the favourite hiding-place of coiners, for all
the sunshine of external humanity that is suffered to enter those
interior recesses. If a murder had been committed in every room, from
the attics to the cellar, a heavier spell of solitude and desolation
could not rest on its floors.

One dreary afternoon in November, a cab stopped at Number Nineteen. It
was a railway cab, less worn and ghastly than those vehicles in
general, but not bringing much evidence of gaiety or wealth for all
that. Its inmates were a widow and a boy of about fifteen; and all the
possessions they had with them were contained in one trunk of very
moderate dimensions, a cage with a canary bird twittering inside, some
pots of flowers, and a little white rabbit, one of the comical
'lop-eared' kind. There was something very touching in these evidences
of the fresh country life which they had left for the dull atmosphere
and steaming fogs of the metropolis. They told a sad tale of old
associations broken, and old loves forsworn; of days of comfort and
prosperity exchanged for the dreariness of poverty; and freedom, love,
and happiness, all snapped asunder for the leaden chain of suffering
to be forged instead. One could not help thinking of all those two
hapless people must have gone through before they could have summoned
courage to leave their own dear village, where they had lived so many
years in that local honourableness of the clergyman's family; throwing
themselves out of the society which knew and loved them, that they
might enter a harsh world, where they must make their own position,
and earn their own living, unaided by sympathy, honour, or affection.
They looked as if they themselves thought something of this too, when
they took possession of the desolate second floor; and the widow sat
down near her son, and taking his hand in hers, gave vent to a flood
of tears, which ended by unmanning the boy as well. And then they shut
up the window carefully, and nothing more was seen of them that night.

Mrs Lawson, the widow, was a mild, lady-like person, whose face bore
the marks of recent affliction, and whose whole appearance and manners
were those of a loving, gentle, unenergetic, and helpless woman, whom
sorrow could well crush beyond all power of resistance. The boy was a
tall, thin youth, with a hectic flush and a hollow cough, eyes bright
and restless, and as manifestly nervous as his mother was the reverse
in temperament--anxious and restless, and continually taxing his
strength beyond its power, making himself seriously ill in his
endeavours to save his beloved mother some small trouble. They seemed
to be very tenderly attached one to the other, and to supply to each
all that was wanting in each: the mother's gentleness soothing down
her boy's excitability, and the boy's nervousness rousing the mother
to exertion. They were interesting people--so lonely, apparently so
unfit to 'rough it' in the world; the mother so gentle in temper, and
the son so frail in constitution--two people who ought to have been
protected from all ill and all cares, yet who had such a bitter cup to
empty, such a harsh fate to fulfil.

They were very poor. The mother used to go out with a small basket on
her arm, which could hold but scanty supplies for two full-grown
people. Yet this was the only store they had; for no baker, no
butcher, no milkman, grocer, or poulterer, ever stopped at the area
gate of Miss Rebecca Spong; no purveyor of higher grade than a
cat's-meat-man was ever seen to hand provisions into the depths of
Number Nineteen's darkness. The old maid herself was poor; and she,
too, used to do her marketing on the basket principle; carrying home,
generally at night, odd scraps from the open stalls in Tottenham
Court-Road, which she had picked up as bargains; and dividing equally
between herself and her fagged servant-of-all-work the wretched meal
which would not have been too ample for one. She therefore could not
help her lodgers, and they all scrambled on over the desolate places
of poverty as they best might. In general, tea, sugar, bread, a little
rice, a little coffee as a change, a scrap of butter which no cow that
ever yielded milk would have acknowledged--these were the usual items
of Mrs Lawson's marketing, on which she and her young son were to be
nourished. And on such poor fare as this was that pale boy expected to
become a hearty man? The mother could not, did not expect it. Else why
were the tears in her eyes so often as she returned? and why did she
hang over her son, and caress him fondly, as if in deprecation, when
she brought him his wretched meal, seeming to lament, to blame
herself, too, that she had not been able to provide him anything
better? Poor things! poor things!

Mrs Lawson seemed at last to get some employment. She had been seeking
for it long--to judge by her frequent absences from home, and the
weary look of disappointment she wore when she returned. But at last
the opening was found, and she set to work in earnest. She used to go
out early in the morning, and not return until late in the evening,
and then she looked pale and tired, as one whose energies had been
overtasked all the day; but she had found no gold-mine. The scanty
meals were even scantier than before, and her shabby mourning was
getting shabbier and duller. She was evidently hard-worked for very
little pay; and their condition was not improved, only sustained by
her exertions. Things seemed to be very bad with them altogether, and
with little hope of amendment; for poor Mrs Lawson had been 'brought
up as a lady,' and so was doubly incapable--by education as well as
by temperament--of gaining her own living. She was now employed as
daily governess in the family of a city tradesman--people, who though
they were kindly-natured enough, had as much as they could do in
keeping their own fortunes afloat without giving any substantial aid
to others, and who had therefore engaged her at the lowest possible
salary, such as was barely sufficient to keep her and her son from
absolute want.

The boy had long been very busy. He used to sit by the window all the
day, earnestly employed with paper and scissors; and I wondered what
fascinating occupation he had found to chain him for so many hours by
those chinks and draughts; for he was usually enveloped in shawls, and
blankets were hung about his chair, and every tender precaution taken
that he should not increase his sickness by exposure even to the
ordinary changes in the temperature of a dwelling-room. But now, in
spite of his terrible cough, in spite of his hurried breathing, he
used to sit for hours on hours by the dusky window, cutting and
cutting at that eternal paper, as if his very life depended on his
task. But he used to gather up the cuttings carefully, and hide all
out of sight before his mother came home--sometimes nearly caught
before quite prepared, when he used to shew as much trepidation as if
committing a crime.

This went on for some time, and at last he went out. It was
fortunately a fine day--a clear, cold, January day; but he had no
sooner breathed the brisk frosty air than a terrible fit of coughing
seemed to threaten his frail existence. He did not turn back though;
and I watched him slowly pass down the street, holding on by the
rails, and every now and then stopping to take breath. I saw a
policeman speak to him in a grave, compassionating way, as if--seeing
that he was so young and feeble, and so much a stranger that he was
asking his way to Oxford Street, while going in a totally contrary
direction--he was advising him to go home, and to let some one else do
his business--his father perhaps; but the boy only smiled, and shook
his head in a hopeful way; and so he went from my sight, though not
from my thoughts.

This continued daily, sometimes Herbert bringing home a small quantity
of money, sometimes only disappointment; and these were terrible
trials! At last, the mother was made acquainted with her son's new
mode of life, by the treasured 5s. which the poor boy thrust into her
hand one evening, with a strange shy pride that brought all the blood
into his face, while he kissed her with impetuosity to smother her
reproaches. She asked him how he had got so much money--so much! and
then he told her how, self-taught, he had learned to cut out
figures--dogs and landscapes--in coloured paper, which he had taken to
the bazaars and stationers' shops, and there disposed of--for a mere
trifle truly. 'For this kind of thing is not fashionable, mother,
though I think the Queen likes them,' he said; 'and of course, if not
fashionable, I could not get very much for them.' So he contented
himself, and consoled her, for the small payment of sixpence or a
shilling, which perhaps was all he could earn by three or four days'

The mother gently blamed him for his imprudence in exposing himself as
he had done to the wet and cold--and, alas! these had told sadly on
his weakened frame; but Herbert was so happy to-night, that she could
not damp his pleasure, even for maternal love; so she reserved the
lecture which _must_ be given until to-morrow. And then his out-door
expeditions were peremptorily forbidden; and Miss Spong was called up
to strengthen the prohibition--which she did effectually by offering,
in her little, quick, nervous way, to take Herbert's cuttings to the
shops herself, and thus to spare him the necessity of doing so. Poor
Mrs Lawson went up to the little woman, and kissed her cheek like a
sister, as she spoke; while Miss Spong, so utterly unused as she had
been for years to the smallest demonstration of affection, looked at
first bewildered and aghast, and finally sank down on the chair in a
childish fit of crying. I cannot say how much the sight of that poor
little old maid's tears affected me! They seemed to speak of such long
years of heart-loneliness--such loving impulses strangled by the chill
hand of solitude--such weary familiarity with that deadness of life
wherein no sympathy is bestowed, no love awakened--that I felt as one
witnessing a dead man recalled to life, after all that made life
pleasant had fled. What a sorrowful house that Number Nineteen was!
From the desolate servant-of-all-work at her first place from the
Foundling, to the half-starved German in the attics, every inmate of
the house seemed to have nothing but the bitter bread of affliction to
eat--nothing but the salt waters of despair to drink.

And now began another epoch in the Lawson history, which shed a sad
but most beautiful light over the fading day of that young life.

A girl of about fourteen--she might have been a year or so
younger--was once sent from one of the stationer's shops to conclude
some bargain with the sick paper-cutter. I saw her slender figure
bound up the desolate steps with the light tread of youth, as if she
had been a divine being entering the home of human sorrow. She was one
of those saintly children who are sometimes seen blooming like white
roses, unstained by time or by contact. Her hair hung down her neck in
long, loose curls, among which the sunlight seemed to have fairly lost
itself, they were so golden bright; her eyes were large, and of that
deep, dark gray which is so much more beautiful, because so much more
intellectual, than any other colour eyes can take; her lips were fresh
and youthful; and her figure had all that girlish grace of fourteen
which combines the unconscious innocence of the child with the
exquisite modesty of the maiden. She soon became the daily visitor of
the Lawsons--pupil to Herbert.

The paper-cutting was not wholly laid aside though; in the early
morning, and in the evening, and often late into the night, the thin,
wan fingers were busy about their task; but the middle of the day was
snatched like an hour of sleep in the midst of pain--garnered up like
a fountain of sweet waters in the wilderness; for then it was that
little Jessie came for her Latin lesson, which she used to learn so
well, and take such pleasure in, and be doubly diligent about, because
poor Herbert Lawson was ill, and vexation would do him harm. Does it
seem strange that a stationer's daughter should be so lovely, and
should learn Latin? And there those two children used to sit for three
dear hours of the day; she, leaning over her book, her sweet young
face bent on her task with a look of earnest intellectuality in it,
that made her like some sainted maid of olden time; and he watching
her every movement, and listening to every syllable, with a rapt
interest such as only very early youth can feel. How happy he used to
look! How his face would lighten up, as if an angel's wing had swept
over it, when the two gentle taps at the door heralded young Jessie!
How his boyish reverence, mixed with boyish care, gave his wasted
features an expression almost unearthly, as he hung over her so
protectingly, so tenderly, so adoringly! It was so different from a
man's love! There was something so exquisitely pure and spiritual in
it--something so reverential and so chivalrous--it would have been
almost a sin to have had that love grow out into a man's strong
passion! The flowers she brought him--and seldom did a day pass
without a fresh supply of violets, and, when the weather was warmer,
of primroses and cowslips, from her gentle hand--all these were
cherished more than gold would have been cherished; the books she lent
him were never from his side; if she touched one of the paltry
ornaments on the chimney-piece, that ornament was transferred to his
own private table; and the chair she used was always kept apart, and
sacred to her return.

It was very beautiful to watch all these manifestations: for I did
watch them, first from my own window, then in the house, in the midst
of the lonely family, comforting when I could not aid, and sharing in
the griefs I could not lessen. Under the new influence, the boy gained
such loveliness and spiritualism, that his face had an angelic
character, which, though it made young Jessie feel a strange kind of
loving awe for the sick boy, betokened to me, and to his mother, that
his end was not far off.

He was now too weak to sit up, excepting for a small part of the day;
and I feared that he would soon become too weak to teach, even in his
gentle way, and with such a gentle pupil. But the Latin exercises
still held their place; the books lying on the sofa instead of on the
table, and Jessie sitting by him on a stool, where he could overlook
her as she read: this was all the change; unless, indeed, that Jessie
read aloud more than formerly, and not always out of a Latin book.
Sometimes it was poetry, and sometimes it was the Bible that she read
to him; and then he used to stop her, and pour forth such eloquent,
such rapturous remarks on what he heard, that Jessie used to sit and
watch him like a young angel holding converse with a spirit. She was
beginning to love him very deeply in her innocent, girlish,
unconscious way; and I used to see her bounding step grow sad and
heavy as, day by day, her brother-like tutor seemed to be sinking from
earth so fast.

Thus passed the winter, poor Mrs Lawson toiling painfully at her task,
and Herbert falling into death in his; but with such happiness in his
heart as made his sufferings divine delights, and his weakness, the
holy strength of heaven.

He could do but little at his paper-cutting now, but still he
persevered; and his toil was well repaid, too, when he gave his mother
the scanty payment which he received at the end of the week, and felt
that he had done his best--that he had helped her forward--that he was
no longer an idler supported by her sorrow--but that he had braced the
burden of labour on to his own shoulders also, weak as they were, and
had taken his place, though dying, among the manful workers of the
world. Jessie brought a small weekly contribution also, neatly sealed
up in fair white paper; and of these crumpled scraps Herbert used to
cut angels and cherubs' heads, which he would sit and look at for
hours together; and then he would pray as if in a trance--so earnest
and heartfelt was it--while tears of love, not grief, would stream
down his face, as his lips moved in blessings on that young maiden

It came at last. He had fought against it long and bravely; but death
is a hard adversary, and cannot be withstood, even by the strongest.
It came, stealing over him like an evening cloud over a star--leaving
him still beautiful, while blotting out his light--softening and
purifying, while slowly obliterating his place. Day by day, his
weakness increased; day by day, his pale hands grew paler, and his
hollow cheek more wan. But the love in his boy's heart hung about his
sick-bed as flowers that have an eternal fragrance from their birth.

Jessie was ever a daily visitor, though no longer now a scholar; and
her presence had all the effect of religion on the boy--he was so
calm, and still, and holy, while she was there.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 451 Volume 18, New Series, August 21, 1852