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The Night Third-Class to Glasgow
From Tait's Edinburgh Magazine (1858)


The nicely-printed yellow excursion hand-bills of the London and North-Western Railway Company afforded the gratifying information that you may be caried from Euston-square to Glasgow, and back again from Glasgow to Euston-square, for forty-two shillings, at any time within twenty-eight days Car your sojourn. It is only, to be sure, third-class as far as accommodation is concerned; but it is first class, or even express, in regard to time, and we go up and down in the regular fashion, the old plan of special excursion trains being now dispensed with. Your forty-two shillings gives you eight hundred miles of travelling within a period of twenty-eight hours, and as night passes with double the rapidity of day, we may put the hours down as fourteen. I may take the liberty of confessing that I prefer night to day, if the business on hand be that of being dragged at a stretch over four bandied miles of mother earth, by a railway locomotive. One may, doing it in that manner, see much of the country; but there is the chance that imprisonment in the railway van may be alleviated by snatches of sleep, and you are certain to find your fellow-prisoners more homely, agreeable, and talkative, than if they were hurrying on to their destiny amid the light and blaze of day.

In fact, this business of going out on an excursion has never, in my case, been unaccompanied with horrors of which the long confinement in a travelling trunk, called a railway carriage, is one, especially when the penalty has to be paid upon the silent, or the solitary, or the separate system. This is worse than the mishaps that are inevitable the disappointments that cannot be avoided, the change of air that blows yon to pieces, or the purgation of bad blood which holiday exercise promotes. I would rather remain at home were it not for what the doctors say, and the pleasing recollection of what is left behind. Then how can a man make up his mind to visit his friends and talk to the ladies, unless he has gone up the Rhine, or gone on the lakes, or gone down to Glasgow and the Highlands? I am bound this time for Glasgow, and I have purchased my glengarry; I have packed up very little luggage within very little space, I have taken cab to Euston-square, and this is the thiird class ticket,-—that is the third class carriage; these are the third-class passengers, and it is only five minutes to nine, or to the exact moment when the wave of a flag and the shriek of a whistle will intimate that we are off. And the best of it is, that it is to be breakfast at Glasgow at eleven o’clock next morning, though at four this afternoon I was scarcely aware that I should move a step beyond Brompton. One likes to imitate the rapid and decisive movements of the Emperor of the French.

Now for this third-class carriage, the shutter of which has been put ajar that passengers may enter. I cannot, for myself, easily make up my mind to go in, and would rather stand hesitating, like Imogen, at the entrance to the cave. It is a cave, and not a carriage, one of the caves of the North-Western confederation. First of all, it must be admitted, though railways are a modern invention, that no man lives who can remember the time when this piece of travelling wood-work was painted, outside or in. Secondly, the interior construction of the box, consisting of two compartments, with gangway between, answers so entirely to those Cattle-travelling stalls by which fat-stock are conveyed from the country, as to suggest to the human inmates that they must consider themselves of animal extraction, not so much created a little lower than the angels as intended to occupy a position very little higher than Herefords and heifers. Thirdly, there is no room to stand up, scarcely space to sit down,—opportunity to shield one’s limbs is out of the question, and rheumatic air must circulate most capriciously through influenza windows and neuralgic orifices of a horizontal kind, that are cut out at the top. Lastly, you look into this North-Western cave, and, although the sun has scarcely set, you can’t see. There is no day-light that has got within it, and that rushlight spark overhead, enclosed in a piece of glass, and which promises to expire at any moment, is all the provision the directors of the company have made for the illumination of the four-and-twenty souls destined to spend the night in darkness. But if your eyes are of no use in this cloistered region, you cannot predicate the same of another of the organs of the sense. If, before you enter, you cannot see, there is no doubt that you are fully able to smell. What is it? A baby? A whiskey bottle? A tobacco flask? Is it human perspiration you smell, or tar, or tallow, or tarpaulin? It appears to me to be all of these, and many more smells, intermingling in playful dalliance, but rushing to your nose as hailstones do to skylight windows. I must have committed an error of judgment in selecting the cheapest railway compartment for a journey to the north, and if there be no time to change my ticket, I may fly to a first class coupe, and pay the difference on the way, or take the chance of being indicted for travelling with a wrong passport.

“Allow me to get out,” said a gentleman of about thirty, who pushed me back as I remained undecided. He was an individual of an interesting and intellectual visage, well-dressed and mannerly, and he intimated to the guard of the train that a fellow had t found his way into the carriage so drunk, that be would become a nuisance that could not be endured all the way to Glasgow. “Not that I care myself about it,” said the educated stranger, “but there are ladies,—perfect ladies in the company.” That was decisively and humanely expressed, yet it was impossible to believe that the indignant speaker was considerate of anybody’s feelings but his own. But if the third-class Glasgow compartment comprised females with genuine lady susceptibility who were ready to sit upon a dirty plank for four hundred miles, why should I hesitate? I pressed my body through the aperture, and squeezed myself down into a seat- The complaining gentleman had done the same, and the flag waved, the whistle whistled, and we were away. The sot sat opposite, with his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, and his lips very actively engaged in linguistic exercise.

Now when amidst hurry, and confusion, and excitement, we manage to catch a railway train, and to get into it as it begins to move, the mind is occupied for a long time with its own emotions. We were pushing on to Rugby without a single stoppage, and I was unconscious of every thing but my own consciousness, when suddenly recalled to a sense of outward things by a Scotch voice asking whether cigars would be objectionable. I had the fortitude to exclaim “decidedly.” With a clear conscience I can avow that I did so entirely from sanatory considerations, and had the satisfaction of being heartily thanked by a pale lady in a corner, with a child in her arms, and a nurse at her feet, who had already sought repose. Hearing this expression of thanks, our Scottish friend opposite started as if by magic, and, throwing his hat upon our knees, and doubling his fists, he made the solemn declaration, accompanied by as rude a form of speech as could be heard or uttered, that as long as there was a lady in the cabin and he was on board, no smoking of any kind whatever should be permitted. The speaker was a seaman, certainly in the last stage of intoxication, but with enough of gallantry left to excite the applause of his hearers, and cigars being disallowed, we had the satisfaction to know that we might reach the end of our journey without having become the victims of asphyxia. In truth, there really appeared to be no room in the carriage for suffocating smoke of any description; for, now that our eyes were opened, and that the time had come for us to attend to the little inside world by which these eyes were surrounded, what could we see? Certainly nothing answering to the philosophic notions of vacant space. Hats and bonnets bad been ingeniously attached to the roof; the short walls up to the low ceiling, were piled up with human heads and human shoulders; and below, and all along our knees, were bandboxes, portmanteaus, sticks, baskets, fishing tackle, even musical cases, and other necessities. All the passengers’ seats were occupied by passengers save one, and the particular spot was indicated by a pile of parcels that rose to the roof, like the slabs of Trajan’s pillar. The pale lady crouched on one side of it; the rough seaman rested his shoulder on the other. In an opposite comer was a square dame, of American aspect, with a venerable bonnet that had the advantage of surrounding the head. The educated gentleman who had honoured me by introducing himself on the platform, and the lad who had threatened the cigar, and who probably owned the fiddle case, were also cribbed in the same cradle; in the cradles beyond, the mass was indistinguishable; but the voices intimated a combination of several classes of society of both sexes, the most of whom had a decided preference for that breadth of expression which is the broadest Scotch. It was a Scotch train, and a Scotch company, and a Scotch mist; and just at the time when there was no sun, and no moon, and no stars to be seen, and when the well-informed gentleman on my left was expressing his most decided belief that everything in the shape of oxygen gas had been ruthlessly expelled from our carriage, the train dashed into the Rugby station, and came to a stand. We threw open the doors, and a very respectable-looking individual leaped out with the exclamation, "Now we breathe!” A caged eagle could not have taken wing with more pleasing and refreshing alacrity.

My only recollection of the next hundred miles of this journey is the agreeable intercourse established with this gentleman—who returned from his air-bath on the platform very much refreshed, and who appeared determined that I should have all the benefit which could arise from the exercise of his conversational powers. We sat shoulder to shoulder, with partition-plank between, and our heads were so close that, like stars in conjunction, it might occasionally be difficult to tell from what body the enlightening flash proceeded. The discernment of my friend was so active, that he made me acquainted with the character and the pursuits of our third-class fellow passengers; and he did not fail to give me a world of information about himself. He was from the Highlands originally, and was now a Glasgow merchant, with branch establishments in Liverpool and London. His first name was Dunean, and his next, if I have not forgotten it, was M’Dougald. He was of opinion that only one thing was necessary to get on in the world, and that was—to apply yourself with all your might and all your strength to the pursuit which you had undertaken; to make yourself master of it; not to allow it to baffle you or to overcome you; and to take care that nobody could do it as well as yourself. The pale lady in the corner, whom he had no doubt was the widow of some officer slain in India, reminded him that our chief consolation in this world was the pleasure of happiness which the female sex created; and he was of opinion that if man had any leisure time at all, it should almost entirely be given up to encourage, and assist, and cheer those dear ones without whom there could be no earthly comfort. A hat, which was suspended from the roof, was wrapped up in a newspaper, and when Mr. Dunoau M’Dugald’s eye perceived it, he changed the topic to 'that of journalism, and particularly remarked that, as he was no smoker, the perusal of the leading articles in the leading daily papers compensated for the pleasure derived from cigars—not that he could say cigars or dissertations were of much practical use, or could be defended upon their abstract merits, but he imagined that both afforded the means of calming and amusing the mind, and diverting its attention from pursuits less comradadable.

In this way my most admirable companion plunged into a variety of other topics suggested by whatever he could touch, or taste, or smell, or see within our narrow enclosure, until at last he made himself possessor of the entire monopoly of the conversation, and his head threatened to fall upon my shoulders, worn out and exhausted. My own head had by this time fallen upon his; and so we were head to head as well as shoulder to shoulder, and, as Sterne would say, our attitude was becoming most sentimental. Repose, like a mesmeric divinity, had come forth to rast her waving passes over our souls; but we were miserably deceived in the hope that we should become the inheritors of her grace, for sundry cramps had taken possession of legs that could not be stretched, and in our efforts to relieve ourselves from pains that crawled up our legs like reptiles, repose was frightened from her gracious task, and fled shrieking far away. Our heads again stood up, and my friend again began, but with a new thought. He had disclosed himself, and now he would like to know something about me. Unfortunately, however, I was not in the confessional humour; but resolutely he renewed his hints and appeals for the required information, and as resolutely did I resist the communication of a particle. Mr. Dunean M’Dougald added the names of towns to the end of his tackle, and asked my opinion about various pursuits and occupations, and wondered if I knew a great number of individuals of public reputation, whose names he mentioned; but I would not bite the bait, being persuaded that no disclosures of my own personal history would be of any practical use to such an individual.

We jumped out for a cup of tea at Stafford. “My friend,” said Duncan, when we were drinking it, “may I ask yon a question?”

I told him he need not hesitate.

“May I ask you,” he rejoined, "if you are the grandson of Burns?”

“Seats! seats!” cried the guard of the train, or some one else; and we rushed to our seats, and were shoulder to shoulder, and head to head again.

Now Mr. M’Dougald and I had not exchanged, hitherto, one word about any poet or any poetry, and his question remained unanswered. “The grandson of the poet Burns,” I now said, “is named Robert; he is the son of the eldest son of the poet; he is now thirty-eight years of age—the very age at which the poet died; he was educated in England, and he now teaches a school in Dumfries.”

“Then you are he,” said Duncan.

“I am not,” said I; and Duncan groaned, and fixed his elbows on his knees, and fixed his head upon his hands and his elbows. I was truly sorry for the disappointment I had caused to Mr. M’Dougald, but, as it happened, I knew all about the grandson of the poet Burns, and availed myself of my knowledge to provoke him. But now it was my turn to be tormented for lack of knowledge.

“My dear Mr. M’Dougald,” I said, “may I ask you a question?”

Using my own phrase, he told me I need not hesitate.

“Pray,” said I, “don’t keep me long in the dark, but tell me by what process of reasoning, or by what stretch of the imaginative powers, you came to the conclusion that I might turn out to be the grandson of the Bard of Scotland?”

This created my friend’s opportunity for penal retort; he raised his head, lifted up his hand, wagged his finger, and with piercing voice, replied, “I do not know; I only thought I would ask you!”

Mr. M’Dougald was not conscious we were hurrying on beyond Crewe and Warrington—for he had gone to sleep, and I was putting forth my most zealous endeavours to do the same, when a movement of a peculiar kind arrested my attention, and aroused all my observing faculties. It was a movement altogether unprecedented in my experience of railway travelling, and an anxiety to understand its true import and meaning chased away all inclination to slumber, as much so as would a roll of drums, a concert of bagpipes, or royal salutes of cannon. I have, I think, made reference to the comfortable old lady in the corner, with round shoulders, great arms, very old-shaped bonnet, and American complexion. This lady heaved a heavy sigh, opened a little basket, took the cork out of a brandy bottle, drank off a portion of its contents, put it back again, lifted up her arms, threw a shawl over her head, rose, turned round, knelt down upon the floor, placed her elbows upon the seat, bowed her bead, covered her cheeks with her hands, and remained in that most poetic and reverential posture with all the calmness and beauty which one endeavours to discover in those huge models of the living creatures of Egypt and Assyria which are to be seen at the Crystal Palace.

Now my most ardent hope is, and always has been, that all good Christians who labour under serious misapprehension may be forgiven; and it is this forgiveness, I fondly trust, that will be extended towards myself for watching the motions of all the links of the chain of movement which I have described, and which passed before my eyes as rapidly as I have put them down upon paper. I did certainly reach the conclusion that the specific end of this succession of performances was no other than a pious and solemn act of worships which I could not fail to appreciate and admire; and my mind began to be actively employed in a variety of speculations. I wanted to know, and I wanted some one to tell me, whether that good old lady was descended from the Pilgrim Fathers who had crossed the sea, or whether she were a living evidence of the wonderful revivals in America, of which we have heard so much, or whether such was the fashion or the custom of religious people who travelled on railways in the United States. But, as I have hinted, I was entirely mistaken, as I soon perceived, when I saw others of the company, who were English and not American, following the same example. The simple truth was, that the lady had prepared and adjusted herself for sleep— not for devotion; and there were so many cramped limbs in her immediate vicinity, it need scarcely be wondered at when I say that three or four individuals resolved to try the same plan experimentally, and, in the meantime, while the female attendant of the lady from India was coiled up like a cable upon the floor, and baby lay sleeping with its head between two bandboxes, our friend the seaman, who had managed an extra glass at Stafford, had allowed himself to be carefully packed away under a seat—a position which he had no doubt mistaken for the hammock or shelf-bed of a Solway Frith steamer.

No doubt I make use of a very worn-out expression when I say that, at this time, the scene was unique. The only individuals conscious of the very singular appearance which the carriage presented as the sun was rising on our way to Lancaster and Carlisle, was myself and the educated and intellectual looking personage who sat at my elbow, and who seemed throughout the journey to think much while he said little. The little, however, that he did say might be worth hearing in mind; and I cannot forget that when he saw me carefully surveying the kneeling limbs and commingled heads of our fellow-passengers, he honestly remarked that he would give a five-pound Bank of England note to have the reality photographed.

I replied that I could not spare such a sum, but that it would be to me a great source of delight to have a copy of the photograph, that I might show it to my friends.

Daylight had approached, and with racked limbs, and shut eyes, and drowsy consciousness, I began to dream; and I dreamt that I was on hoard a Thames steamer, with my back to the panel and my face to the east wind. Such a position gives one the disagreeable sensation of having, like the earth, a torrid zone on one part of the body, and a frigid zone on the other. And it was more than a dream; for the approaching light of day, or something else, brought a draught of air into the carriage, which seemed to be specially directed against my head, and breast, and hands, whilst my shoulders and spine were feverishly heated by the close and sultry atmosphere which human lungs and refreshment baskets had generated behind. In addition, there was a stream of a different kind, more like gas than air, which appeared to come from below, smelling like fire, and coke, and tar, and cinders. The cause of this was soon explained; for no sooner had we dashed into the handsome and commodious station at Carlisle, than the doors of our carriage were thrown open, and the sleepers were awakened by the very agreeable intelligence, uttered from porters lungs, that we were on fire. Now this fire was not upon the mountains, nor upon ourselves, nor in the interior, nor upon the top, nor on the sides of the carriage that had conveyed us from London; but nevertheless, we were out and upon the platform, with bag and baggage, as swiftly as if we had received notice that an engine was going to burst, or barrels of gunpowder to explode. In good truth, it was not fire, only the smell of it, and the heat of it; bat still sufficient to indicate that it would, in a short time, have turned out to be fire, flaming and blazing away in the wind of a fresh summer morning, and flying through valleys at the speed of twenty-five or thirty miles an hour. It was only certain greasy axles below that had got heated, and made the tar melt, and the wood-work smoke; but it was quite enough to make us all come to the unanimous resolution, without the formality of chairmanship, speeehification, or pen, ink, and paper, that we would not trust our spiritual and animal nature within that carriage again. So there was no help for it, and the officers in attendance brought down the luggage from the top, attached another third-class van, and bundled us all in, and all that belonged to us, and rang the bell, and harried us off to Scotland amid indescribable confusion, without having taken the trouble to examine our tickets, and without having given ns a chance of obtaining breakfast.

Now all was changed, though the carriage seemed much the same. Like dice, we had been rattled up and cast down, in different positions. Before, there had been something like order and arrangement, in the congregation of hats and hat-boxes, of umbrellas, sticks, staves, mats, plaids, shawls, and overcoats; but so complete was the topsy-turvey, that the work of identification and adjustment occupied all our time till we reached the station in the little town of Lockerbie, celebrated for its low roofs and its lamb fairs. To speak the truth, we seemed first of all to be occupied, after leaving Carlisle, in the special work of identifying ourselves, for the great shake-up we had encountered, had scarcely restored that consciousness that was obscured, and those limbs that were twisted, and senses that were dulled by the Bight’s imprisonment and its manifold discomforts. Then, when once fairly certain of the personal identity of ourselves, we could not be so sure of those around us, for some had secured corner seats, who had no corner seats before, others had been transported from the north, to the south end of the carriage; and a better glare of the light of day, seemed to have changed the complexion of our most familiar friends. But in the course of time, this chaos of mind, and baggage disappeared—law, order, propriety, and peace attained the ascendancy; and being beyond all doubt, hurrying on through the plains, and slopes, and mountain ranges, and cold-looking villages of the south of Scotland, a general chat sprang up connected with the same, the Scotch portion of the company speaking broader than before, and we English being disposed to gather all the information we could, from cheerful and well-informed teachers. Nevertheless, this was weary and exhausting occupation to wearied and exhausted travellers, and feverish dozing succeeded the lively conversation. The air was fresh, the sun was up, the steam was full, and the speed was express; but down went one head after another, over on one side, over on the other,—resting on this shoulder and resting on that, and only roused to upright positions when the standing order had to be obeyed, of showing tickets. It is clear, that if sleep has not performed its divine mission throughout the night, it will haunt and overcome its subject, at the approach of day; and so my own frail experience of the present memorable journey was, that the last fifty miles of it, might have been performed in a ship or a balloon, or might have been over the prairies or the desert, for anything that I knew about it. But as a morning’s joy may sometimes bring grief at night, so may a morning’s nap, end in remorse. ’Twas “Glasgow, Glasgow,” that I now heard sounded in my ears by a ticket official, and I awoke with spasms and pains which might have led to the belief that for hours, I had been the victim of the rack, the iron-boot, and the thumb-screws. Far better, had I not slept at all, and the only consilation was the kind support and assistance which I received from my most devoted and warm-hearted friend, Mr. Duncan M’Dougald, whom I had not seen since leaving Carlisle, but who folded me in his strong arms as I leaped and fell upon the platform. .

“You are most welcome to the old city of Glasgow,” said my kind benefactor, “and,” added he, “what can I now do for you?”

“A thousand thanks,” I answered “there is a great service, you can perform for your humble servant; you can see me put into a cab with that little parcel there; you can tell the cabman where I can find a comfortable hotel; pray serve me in my weak and prostrate condition, and I will promise you, never to travel third-class again, if I can go second or first.”

Mr. M’Dougald not only helped me to a vehicle, but lifted me in, soul and body, and shut the door and bade me good morning, and I drove away.


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