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The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart
Chapter XXIV - Personal Details - Illustrations of Character


This chapter is intended to supply some personal details which it was not convenient to introduce elsewhere, and to give some illustrations of Sir William Fairbairn's character.

Mr. Fairbairn was, as already stated, married in 1810. The couple therefore lived together eight years beyond the date of the 'golden wedding day,' which is so seldom attained. He had nine children, seven sons and two daughters, of whom three sons and one daughter are now living.

The second and eldest surviving son Thomas, the present baronet, was born in 1823. He was the most active assistant to his father in his manufacturing business, and latterly had its sole management. He is a deputy lieutenant and magistrate for Lancashire and a magistrate for Hampshire, where he has a seat, at Brainbridge, near Winchester, and he served as sheriff for that county in 1870. He has long and often been before the world on matters of science, art, and public policy. In 1860 he was elected by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 a member of that Commission, and again was nominated by the Crown in a similar capacity for the International Exhibition of 1862. He was chairman of the Exhibition of Art Treasures at Manchester in 1857, and on the occasion of her Majesty's visit there was offered the honour of knighthood, which he declined.

Of the two other sons, the elder, William Andrew, (formerly one of the partners,) still resides in London, and, the younger, the Rev. Adam Henderson Fairbairn, M.A., is vicar of Waltham St. Lawrence, Berks.

During the lifetime of the Prince Consort Mr. Fairbairn, as well as other members of his family, were honoured with frequent instances of the esteem and regard of various members of the Royal Family. Prince Albert on several occasions had conversations with Mr. Fairbairn on topics of scientific and educational interest; these subjects engaging, as is well known, the Prince's thoughtful consideration and constant devotion.

General Knollys, writing to Mr. Fairbairn on December 9, 1865, to acknowledge the receipt of some volumes of his writings, which he had presented to the Prince of Wales, was desired by his Royal Highness to return the Prince's best thanks, and to acquaint Mr. Fairbairn that it will always be a pleasure and instruction to him to receive the publications of so practical and scientific a writer, and one so highly esteemed by his Royal Highness's lamented father.

It ought further not to be unnoticed in this volume, as a circumstance probably without precedent, that this one family were honoured by one Sovereign, her present Majesty, with no fewer than five offers of rank:—the knighthood to Mr. Fairbairn in 1801; the baronetage to him in 1869; the knighthood to his son in 1857; a knighthood accepted by his brother Peter in 1858; arid another also accepted by Sir Peter's son in 1868.

Mr. Fairbairn purchased his house at the Polygon, Ardwick, Manchester, in 1840, and was so attached to it that he continued it as his residence till his death.—the long period of thirty-four years.

He was very hospitable. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to receive his friends as guests. His letters teemed with invitations to 'the Polygon,' and whenever there was anything of public interest going on in Manchester his house was always full.

The society at the Polygon during the last fifteen or twenty years of his life was of an unusually intellectual, refined, and attractive character, and brought together guests of singularly varied acquirements and talents. Among them were the Chevalier Bunsen, Sir David Brewster, Mr. Wra. Hopkins, Dr. Prince Lee, Bishop of Manchester, Lord Hosse, Lord Wrottesley, the Rev. Vernon Harcourt, Dr. Robinson of Armagh and his gifted wife, Sir Edward and Lady Sabine, the Earl of Derby, Earl Granville, Lord Brougham, Mr. Leonard Horner, Mrs. Gaskell, Lord Houghton, Lord Shaftesbury, the several eminent Professors of Owen's College, and many others, whose names are well known in science, literature, and the public service. It was his custom to invite groups of visitors regularly every autumn; his invitations were gladly responded to, and these annual pleasant gatherings of choice spirits were thoroughly enjoyed by those who had the good fortune to be present at them.

To offer an estimate of Sir William Fairbairn's character we may, in the first instance, gather some illustrative traits from his correspondence, and then add the more direct testimony of those who were best acquainted with him.

The following extract of a letter to his partner Lillie, written when he was quite young, first entering into business, gives an example of the high feeling of honour and integrity that actuated his business transactions.

Lutidua, December 12,

Mr. Cooke's wheel, Mr. Potter's work, and all the rest, we shall talk over together. In the meantime I shall look in at the watchmaker's and order both yourself and me a gold watch, but on the condition that it is not to be delivered until we have paid for our buildings, and are fairly out of debt.

His domestic letters had often a mixture of gaiety and jocularity with serious and good feeling.

The following are fair samples:—

February 19, 1858.

Many thanks for your kind and affectionate congratulations [on his 69th birthday]. By my letter to--- you will find I am a happy and contented old codger, and whether my doom is fixed for seventy or eighty, more or less, is a matter of little moment. Men only live while they are useful, and my hope is that my years will not be prolonged beyond that period.

The following was a new year's letter to one of his fellow-workers: —

January 2, 1856.

Many happy new years to you and your family, and I hope as long as I can keep up the steam that we shall always bring in the new year, not with some compliment, but with something useful to mankind.

I am an engine always ready for service, and although a little antiquated in construction, the working parts are nevertheless in pretty good repair. The boiler has a few patches upon it, but a little careful stoking will not only prevent an explosion, but maintain the old vessel in moderate condition and efficiency for a few years longer, when I make no doubt the repairs will terminate in a ' new stock and barrel.'

He had a quiet sense of humour which he could exhibit very effectively. On one occasion a friend asked him to present to the Royal Society a communication descriptive of some remarkable optical phenomena which the writer professed to have witnessed ; and Mr. Fairbairn replied:—

I have read your paper which you are desirous of communicating to the Royal Society; hut you will forgive me if I recommend you, in the present crude state of your observations, not to send it. If you could trace the appearance to its cause in some peculiar action of the organ of sight, it would be much more satisfactory.

I remember many years ago posting from Coventry to Birmingham on a clear moonlight evening, and the more I looked the more I was convinced that there were two moons! I saw them distinctly; but I afterwards accounted for the appearance by the fact of having previously dined with a jovial party. I am sure you will pardon me for this suggestion.

He could express himself strongly, too, when he considered himself aggrieved. On one page of his letter book is this note:.—

These two letters were addressed to two scoundrels who repudiated payment for work ordered under an award where I was appointed sole arbitrator.—W. F.

One of the letters runs thus :—

Sir,—I have paid for your defective work and unprincipled character. I do not envy the saving you have effected when attained at the expense of equity and justice, and I offer no apology for remaining, with unqualified contempt, yours, W. Fairbairn.

The other is in similar tone.

It was one of the penalties of his position to be continually consulted on worthless schemes, often by personal friends; and all eminent engineers and men of science know how exceedingly difficult sometimes is the task of replying to such applications.

The following extracts of letters show how Mr. Fairbairn was in the habit of dealing with such cases:—

Manchester, November 24, 1853.

My dear Sir.—With a strong desire to render myself useful to the undertaking in which you are engaged, I have arrived at the conclusion, after a careful perusal of the Reports of--, that it would be premature, if not injurious, to allow my name to appear in public as one of the promoters of this project. On your account, and that of my respected friend Sir---, I would gladly do it; but until the invention is more matured, and its practical effect more clearly developed, neither my name nor that of any other person, however high in station, will advance—it may retard—its progress. In my opinion a great deal has yet to be done in the way of perfecting the ingenious discovery of M.--; but this is a work of time not unaccompanied with experimental research. I am satisfied that the principle is a happy idea; but from what I can see at present, its commercial value and utility, when compared with our best steam engines, has not been satisfactorily established, arid that it still requires additional tests and experiments to satisfy the public as to the superior advantages likely to accrue from the change.

In the consideration of this subject I deem it essential that I should speak plainly, and not attempt to raise expectations which I might not at some future period be able to realise. The question altogether is one of considerable importance, and I shall deem it my duty to watch the progress of the invention, and to encourage its ultimate success to the utmost of my power. This I cannot, however, accomplish as a director of the company; and if my services are to be at all available in a practical point of view, I must remain unfettered and with time to act, as circumstances may require. Whenever you consider these services requisite, you may command,

My dear Sir, yours sincerely,

W. Fairbairn.

Manchester, February 11, 18.30.

My dear Sir,—I have just received your note of Saturday last. I much fear there is something wrong with your friend in Belgium, otherwise he would not hesitate, but rather court, investigation into the principle, as well as the practical working, of his motive power.

I was in hopes I could have been of service to you, as well as to the projector, by a careful examination of his machinery, in case his ideas were sound and practical. I entertained hopes of being able to assist in bringing to maturity a well-digested scheme which had for its basis not a visionary but a permanent superstructure. On the other hand, should it prove to be one of those projects with no other foundation than that which exists in the imagination of the projector, I was then prepared, confidentially, to give to both an honest opinion as to the inutility of a scheme which could have no other result than loss of reputation and a useless expenditure of money. As it is, I most respectfully decline any interference with your friend and his scheme. I would be willing to do so on your account, but it is quite evident there is some screw loose in the principle, as well as the practice of the undertaking, otherwise a free and open explanation would not have been withheld.

Believe me, my dear Sir,

Very faithfully yours,

Wm. Fairbairn.

The following was to an eminent scientific professor, who had been stepping out of his way to meddle with practical mechanical inventions :—

Paris, July 24, 1815.

My dear Sir,—I have given your new project my best consideration, and I cannot better express my earnest desire to serve you than by advising you not to be too sanguine of success in this matter. I am sorry to differ from you in a question to which you attach so much importance, but I deem it my duty in projects which involve considerations of money as well as reputation, to be perfectly candid and perfectly honest in giving an opinion.

Under all the circumstances, whilst I admit the existence of the force, I must confess I do not see my way clearly to its practical application. There are difficulties to be encountered before the project, however good, can be realised. The great difficulty will be to induce capitalists to embark in undertakings of this kind unless they see their way clearly before them.

I mention all these things to show how much is to be done before your new invention comes into use, and the difficulties which will require to be surmounted before the improvements you suggest can be brought into useful application. I am sure you will pardon me for speaking thus plainly. I would not advise a patent for England, as we have no rivers on which it. could be applied. It might be applicable in some parts of Europe or America, but I would not advise the expense of a patent until you have further experience of its utility.

Yours, &c.,"-

Wm Fairbairn-.

His religious feelings were often manifested in his correspondence. On his settlement in Manchester he became a member of the congregation at Cross Street Chapel, and remained so to the end of his life, ready on all occasions to show his interest in its welfare, and associating on terms of closest intimacy with its ministers, more especially with the Rev. J. G. Robberds and his colleague, the Rev. W. Gaskell, M.A.

The following letter will show the interest Mr. Fairbairn took in religious subjects :—

The Polygon, Sept. 15, 1661.

My dear Mr. Gaskell,- I almost regret that the printing of the sermon of last Sunday, so generously inscribed to myself, had not waited for the addition of your equally valuable and truly philosophical discourse of this morning. I look upon these two discourses as highly appropriate to the termination of the labours of the past week, and I sincerely hope they may shortly be published (to which I would cheerfully contribute) for the benefit, not only of the Cross Street congregation, but of the general public.

I am sure Mrs. and Miss Gaskell and family were highly gratified to find the whole term of the meeting an ovation of the most gratifying description. Pray make our united regards acceptable to them, and believe me,

Ever faithfully yours,

W. Fairbairn.

On another occasion his interest in the chapel took the form of a sensible scolding to some of the trustees:-

Manchester, September 11, 1866.

Dear Sirs,—As one of the oldest pew-holders in Cross Street Chapel, I have witnessed with deep regret a tendency to dispute, if not a total disruption of the congregation, arising as I suppose from the desire of one party to establish new forms and conditions inimical to the other. I am totally at a loss to discover the cause of these differences. They cannot arise from the simple consideration of a change of hymn-books, and unless some other motives are at work, I am unable to account for the antagonisms which exist.

I am not sufficiently acquainted with the movements of parties to discover to whom we are indebted for all these unfortunate cavils, but I regret them, and should greatly deplore any attempt to carry out views by one party or another, contrary to the wishes of the congregation, and at variance with the harmony and good feeling which for a long series of years has been the pride and satisfaction of its members.

If the present unfortunate contest rested exclusively upon the choice of Kippis's or Martineau's hymns, the question might soon be settled by the decision of the majority. I am, from early associations, personally in favour of Kippis's, but I will sing from Martineau provided the congregation so wills it.

On these points I am, however, of opinion that nothing should be done without the aid and assistance of our Pastors. They of all others ought to be consulted. They have to conduct the services of the church, and it is fitting and right that they should have a voice in whatever changes may be considered necessary and expedient.

I offer these remarks under the impression that the present differences may be amicably settled without risk or danger of disruption, and that such may be the result,

I am, dear Sirs, sincerely and truly yours,

W. Fairbairn.

The Trustees of Cross Street Chapel.

Above the pew in the chapel in which for so long a period he was accustomed to sit, a white marble tablet, exquisitely sculptured by T. Wholner, E.A., was erected by his son, the present baronet. It bears the following simple inscription between two stems of oak and thistle :—

this tablet placed here to the memory of sir

WILLIAM FAIRBAIRN
first baronet of Abdwick who worshipped is this chapel for more than 50 years. he was born at Kelso 18th February 1789 and died at 18th April 1874.

In a letter of 1854 to the daughter of an old friend, he says:—

Many thanks for the book of sermons, hut I very much doubt whether they are at all likely to supplant Blair. Blair and I are old friends, and I have treasured up his benevolent and homely maxims from early life until they have become almost a part of my existence. Besides, they are very healthy discourses, and as I like my religious garments to sit easy upon myself, I am inclined to extend the same comfort to others. You must not therefore be alarmed about me, as in my endeavour to do my best m the faithful discharge of the duties of this life I hope, through God's mercy, to meet our dear friends in that which is to come.

At a later time an event occurred which tried his temper sorely. The young lady to whom the letter just mentioned was written had married, and Mr. Fairbairn invited the pair to pay them a visit; the invitation was accepted, but the husband (a Scotchman) having heard that Mr Fairbairn attended a chapel where Unitarian views were held, was so shocked that, considering the residence of such a person as a pest house to be avoided, he wrote an angry letter putting an end to the arrangement. This letter cannot be found, or it might be printed as an example of Scotch notions of toleration; but Mr. Fairbairn's admirable answer to the young wife was as follows :—

My dear Mrs.--, I do not wish to say a single word against the husband of your choice; but if I am to judge of his character by a letter received this morning, I should certainly arrive at conclusions anything but favourable to his discretion. He may be a good man, and have all the conditions you require, but he is assuredly devoid of the feeling of what is due from one gentleman to another. You may inform Mr.-, that I do not envy his religious convictions, but I do most earnestly pray that I may never possess them. I may be wrong in this, but I am quite able to judge for myself in matters of faith without calling upon Mr.--as my Father Confessor. I regret, my dear madam, that your promised visit to the Polygon should have had such a termination. Both Mrs. Fairbairn and myself retain a lively recollection of your former self, and with every good wish, believe me,

Most sincerely yours,

W. Fairbairn.

P.S.—Mr.--'s letter requires no answer.

In April 1874, a few months before his death, a lady friend, zealous to do good, wrote a long letter to him on his religious views. His answer is not preserved; but he endorsed the letter 'I can think for myself,' and he remained in this tone of mind to the end.

The following remarks appended to an obituary notice in a Manchester paper are happily appropriate:—

It remains to say that in Sir William Fairbairn an urbane amiability of demeanour was united to intellectual strength, and that no man could he more deserving of the tributes of social esteem which he so constantly received.

He had the straightforward simplicity so characteristic of strong men, with a grave gentleness, neither rugged nor repellent.

The painter Haydon, visiting Manchester thirty-five years ago to lecture, to start a school of design, and to apprentice a son at Fairbairn's, is said to have made this entry in his journal after a dinner party at Mr. Darbishire's :—'Liked Fairbairn much; a good, iron, steam-engine head. To see his expression when they talked of "Ernest Maltravers," made me inwardly rejoice. "I cannot get through novels," said he; it showed his good sense. He has risen from a foundry labourer to be master of as great a manufactory as any in the world.' Haydon's observation, however true as far as it goes, prompts the addition that Fairbairn in his youth had been no ignorant clown. His mind was of finer mould, and had been better trained at home than is commonly to be looked for in the class of life to which Haydon referred him. Familiarity with hardships had no more roughening effect on him than would be expected from some of the sports of young gentlemen's playgrounds, or the experiences of a military campaign.

The expression quoted as his by Haydon that he 'could not read novels,' was, however, not literally true; for when well written he read them with much interest, and when he happened to be on friendly terms with the authors he generally wrote to them his opinion of their works, sometimes indeed criticising pretty freely the parts which he did not approve.

He had a good deal of correspondence of this kind with Mrs. Gaskell, with whom, as the wife of his pastor, he was on terms of intimate friendship; and his remarks were taken by that talented lady in very good part, as the following extracts from her letters will show:—

Plymouth

My dear Mr. Fairbaim,—I am ashamed that I have been so long in acknowledging your kind friendly note, and very just criticisms on 'North and South.' Do you know I have half begun to expect a note from you after the publication of every story of mine, and I was beginning to feel a little disappointed that none arrived on this occasion. You see how unreasonable authors (as well as other people) become if they have once been indulged.

Your kind and racy critiques both give me pleasure and do me good; that is to say, your praise gives me pleasure because it is so sincere and judicious that I value it; and your faultfinding does me good, because it always makes me think, and very often it convinces me that I am in error. This time I believe you have hit upon a capital blunder ... I don't think a second edition will be called for; but if it should be, you may depend upon it I shall gladly and thoughtfully make use of your suggestion.

I agree with you that there are a certain set of characters in 'North and South,' of no particular interest to any one in the tale, any more than such people would be in real life; but they were wanted to fill up unimportant places in the story, when otherwise there would have been unsightly gaps.

Mr. Hale is not a 'sceptic'; he has doubts, and can resolve greatly about great things, and is capable of self-sacrifice in theory; but in the details of practice he is weak and vacillating. I know a character just like his, a clergyman who has left the Church from principle, and in that did finely; but his daily life is a constant unspoken regret that he did so, although he would do it again if need be.

But I am afraid I am taking up your time with what you will not care to read. Thank you again, dear Mr. Fairbairn, for your note, which I shall always value, and believe me,

1 am yours most truly,

E. C. Gaskell.

The following relates to remarks of his on the work by which this authoress is perhaps best known, the 'Life of Charlotte Bronte.'

(Date probably June 1857.)

My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—I don't think you know how much good your letter did me. In the first place I was really afraid that you did not like my book, because I had never received your usual letter of criticism; and in the second, it was the one sweet little drop of honey that the postman had brought me for some time, as, on the average, I had been receiving three letters a day for above a fortnight, finding great fault with me (to use a mild expression for the tone of their compliments) for my chapter about the Cowan Bridge school.

So I gave your letter a great welcome, my dear Mr. Fairbairn, and I should have replied to it sooner, but that it has seemed very difficult to catch you. No sooner did I hear you were in Manchester than you wrote to Mary Holland, saying that you were leaving; and, really, unless I had directed to 'Wm. Fairbairn, Esq., Kailnay Carriage,' I don't know where I could have found you.

I have had a preface to my (forthcoming) third edition sent to me, which I dare not insert there; but it is too good to be lost, therefore I shall copy it out for you:—

'If anybody is displeased with any statement in this book, they are requested to believe it withdrawn, and my deep regret expressed for its insertion, as truth is too expensive an article to be laid before the British public.'

But for the future I intend to confine myself to lies (i.e. fiction). It is safer.

We did so enjoy home. We often thought of you, and half considered if you would not turn up in the Holy Week, which you hinted at as possible when we left. We came home by Florence, Venice, Milan, Genoa, and Nice. I wonder if you are at home, and if we could tempt you to come in to our 8 o'clock tea to-morrow night. We have Miss Bronte's faithful friend E. staying with us.

Yours ever most truly and gratefully,

E. C. Gaskell.

In regard to Sir William Fairbairn's professional and scientific character, the following communications from friends who had the best opportunity, as well as the best capability of judging, speak for themselves:—

Koypllniian Engineering College, Cooper's Hill, Stainwi,

October 31,1876.

You have asked me for an expression of my opinion in regard to the late Sir W. Fairbairn, especially with regard to his scientific position. I was, as you know, well acquainted with his scientific work during seven, years, and assisted him in his researches. I am very glad, therefore, to state my impressions.

I would remark first of all that Sir W. Fairbairn's knowledge of science was not chiefly learned from books, and that his knowledge of mathematical methods was not extensive. He owed his extensive knowledge of the use of materials almost entirely to observation and experience. Interested in knowing what progress was making in different branches of science, and ready to accept any help from mathematicians, he still fought his own way to knowledge along a different path. He did not appear to me to accept with firmness anything which he had not confirmed by his own observations or experiment. His thorough reliance upon direct experiment made him willing to undertake any investigation likely to throw light on doubtful points of practical science, and when he had once formulated the results of his experiments he relied on them with a remarkable absence of doubt or hesitation, and applied his conclusions in practice with a courage which would have sometimes seemed rashness to anyone more conversant with theoretical considerations.

I do not think that anyone else would have ventured to apply the common plate girder formula to so different a construction as a ship. But after the wreck of the Royal Charter he investigated the strength of ships in that way, and was led to the conclusion that many ships were deficient in power of resisting bending strains. At the moment no more elaborate investigation was possible, and the rough result obtained by Sir W. Fairbairn was not only correct, but did good service. Later investigations of a much more elaborate character on the transverse strength of ships have been made; but so far as. I know, Sir W. Fairbairn was the first to point out that an iron ship needs to be considered as a girder resisting transverse forces.

There can be no question that parallel with theoretical investigations in applied mechanics there is needed a stress of experimental investigations to check the results of theory, and to furnish the numerical data which are required. I suppose no one has done so much to supply such data as Sir W. Fairbairn. His experiments on the strength of materials and of structures involved a considerable expenditure of thought, of labour, and of money. Those experiments always were of a practical character, but they did not aim at any immediate commercial result. Sir W. Fairbairn was always ready to undertake researches which it appeared would increase practical knowledge, trusting that in time the results would prove to be of value. I may add that his experiments were always made in a truly scientific spirit, and with all the precautions which were known to be desirable. His experiments are therefore trustworthy, and free from any suspicion of bias.

As to Sir W. Fairbairn's position as an engineer, it would hardly be becoming in me to say very much. His reputation was so well established in so many different branches of engineering, and his works are so important and well known, that no testimony from me is needed. I can only say that a younger engineer could not help being struck with his sound and rapid judgment of practical questions.

Personally, it was extremely pleasant to be engaged under Sir W. Fairbairn. I found him uniformly kind and considerate. He made his influence strongly felt without exercising any direct pressure. He was very indefatigable in his own work, and very ready to recognise conscientious work in others. His memory was very accurate and retentive. In manner he was always calm, and free from hurry or irritation.

W. Cawthorne Unwin.

Dr. Robinson, F.E.S., of Armagh, one of the ablest and most respected men of science of the present day, writes thus:—

observatory, Armegh, November 8, 1873.

I would say that Sir William Fairbairn was among the noblest of the good and wise whom it has been my good fortune to know during my long life.

Through all our intimacy of more than forty years I never saw in him anything to cloud the high esteem in which I held him.

Kind, generous, and upright; prudent in forming resolutions, energetic in carrying them out, and gifted with rare experimental sagacity, he was one of the best types of a class of men to whom our nation owes so much of its greatness.

In one respect (at least so it seems to me) he was distinguished above the other great engineers of his time in the spirit of research which urged him to enquiries involving much expenditure of time, labour, and money, which, though of the highest importance to the science of mechanical engineering, brought with them no material remuneration. These he gave to the public without reserve; and it is not. too much to say that his investigations on the strength of riveting, on the deterioration of cast-iron by long-continued strain, and as to the resistance of tubes to collapse under external pressure, were boons not merely to his profession, but to humanity itself.

Not less notable in him was the complete absence of affectation; he knew the exact measure of his attainments, and never pretended to anything beyond them.

Nor had he any of that jealousy of rivals which I regret to say is not very uncommon among men of science. Even in vexed questions where he considered he had been unfairly treated, he was never unjust to his opponents; and though more than one of his proteges repaid him with ingratitude, yet. he spoke of this in no angry spirit.

T. R. Robinson.

The late Professor Macquorn Rankine, a high authority on mechanical science, spoke of Sir William's long series of experimental investigations as 'unparalleled for extent and for practical utility.'

Another friend, who knew him well in business, says:—

In a professional sense, no difficulty daunted him. He liked, as he said, ' to tackle a big job,' the more novel and daring the better; his energy and determination seemed to increase in proportion to the number and magnitude of the difficulties he had to overcome. He was for this reason very often consulted by the different departments of the Government, and by many of the ii ii great civil engineers who, between 1830 and 1870, were developing and completing great industrial and national undertakings with a rapidity and success which astonished the world. His eagerness to associate himself with such enterprises, and his desire to secure for his own manufacturing establishments some portion of the constructive works, often led him into unprofitable bargains. He liked to secure a great order, and his one anxiety, when such an opportunity presented itself, was to ' do the work,' thinking little of the result, whether for profit or the reverse. Fame with him was ever before money. He was never, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, a 'good man of business,' and thus we find that it was not till after 1845, when his sons became associated with him as partners, and their influence began to predominate in the management of the concerns, that he began to accumulate wealth, and make safe those profits of business which he had constantly earned, but had allowed to melt away again. He made several fortunes, but only kept one.

In connection with his professional character and success, one thing deserves especial mention. He had a wonderful eye for proportion and the mechanical fitness of things. It was the universal judgment and remark of the troops of eminent scientific men whose friendship he enjoyed, that although he made no pretensions to theoretical attainments, he had an eminently scientific and philosophic turn of mind and thought. For this reason he almost intuitively went right in all his designs of novel and original nature. I cannot call to mind a single instance of failure, either from inadequate strength or faulty proportions in any of his work; and his steam-engines, water-wheels, mill-gearing, his boilers and bridges, were models of symmetry, and were, never disfigured, as is too often the case, by the superfluous and injurious introduction of unnecessary material.

He was frequently called in to satisfy public anxiety as to the safety of large and important public structures. On these occasions he seemed to take in at a glance the merits and defects of any combination of parts, and he was never wrong in the immediate opinion he expressed as to its security or insecurity. He was presented with a gold snuff-box, by the council of the famous Anti-Corn Law League, for the advice and assistance he. gave in the construction of the roof which covered the vast area of the first great Free Trade Hall in Manchester; and I remember his judgment and reports were at once accepted, as assuring the public safety, when he was asked to examine the galleries and passages of the buildings for the great International Exhibition in London, and the Exhibition of Art Treasures in Manchester. The weak points were detected in a moment, and the appropriate remedies and strengthenings were suggested at once.

His hand-sketching was admirably clear and clever. His business letters were frequently illustrated by neat drawings, and the draughtsmen who elaborated his plans never had any difficulty in rendering in full detail the original sketches he put in their hands. It was also a characteristic practice with him to order many of his mechanical contrivances to be drawn out full size on a large surface. For this purpose the floor of one large room nearly seventy feet long was kept free as a huge drawing-board; to these full-sized drawings the wooden patterns, when completed, were brought down and adjusted.

In addition to the above, the editor has been favoured by intimate friends of Sir William with many less formal memoranda, which enable him to give the following details of his personal and private traits of character :—

Perhaps the most remarkable feature was his indefatigable activity and his earnestness of purpose in work. With him work seemed a necessity of life, and he. could not rest or be happy unless well employed. He was never heard to complain of hard toil; indeed it was to him a pleasure.

The simple record of what he did as a school-boy, as an almost self-teaching student, as an engineer, as an experimentalist, and as a writer, shows that his favourite and oft-repeated assertions of 'indomitable perseverance' and 'determination to excel' were with him no idle phrases, but active guiding principles of conduct. His love for work lasted down to almost the very end of his long life. No hour of his day was ever unoccupied or passed in idleness. He never found ' dignity in leisure,' but was ever doing. In business he was unceasingly at work with his brain, his pen, and his draughtsmen, iu scheming, inventing, or trying to improve something or other. Wherever he was he breakfasted early, and the meal over he at once set about a long day's work. When at Manchester, from nine to six o'clock of every day was spent in the office or the workshops; and during the height of his prosperity as a mechanical engineer he had seldom less than eight or ten draughtsmen constantly at work under his own personal direction.

His correspondence was prodigious, and he never failed to answer letters, however trivial their subject, and however obscure the writer, giving always the best advice and assistance to all he considered worthy of it. His reports and scientific writings were mostly clone at night. When the family retired to rest he adjourned to his library at the Polygon ; and at a little writing-desk ill one corner of the room, with a shaded lamp by his side, and with the little picture of the Arbeitszimmer of his illustrious friend, the author of ' Cosmos,' before him, his pen might be heard scribbling away incessantly till the small hours of the morning. The quantity of matter he wrote was astounding; for the mass of his writings chronicled in the pages of this work, large as it is, only represents a small fraction of what proceeded from his hand.

The leisure moments he so fairly earned after a hard day's work, if not spent in writing, were devoted to reading. He was especially fond of history and biography. For works of fiction generally he had no particular taste, though he greatly enjoyed a novel which faithfully portrayed the scenes of home life. Goldsmith, Washington Irving, and Trescott were his favourite authors, and in later times he highly appreciated the works of George

Eliot, Mrs. Gaskell, and the authoress of *John Halifax, Gentleman.'

His holidays, which seldom exceeded three weeks or a month, were spent either at the houses of friends, or in short trips abroad, or in revisiting in Scotland the scenes of his early days.

But long familiarity with the stir and activity of a large manufacturing town had disqualified him for enjoying the quiet of country life. Nor had he any taste for field sports; he neither hunted, nor shot, nor fished ; his only exercise was walking. Whenever business or inclination called him into the country, he would derive his chief interest from farming operations. Any time he could spare was usually spent in company with the nearest farmer, discussing the state of the markets and the different improvements in agriculture; and it has been noticed how the farmers were struck with his sagacity and information on such matters.

Though he studied and thought much in solitude, lie loved companionship, and on his long journeys, as well as on his visits to scientific gatherings, such as the British Association, he was generally accompanied either by one of his sons or by his son-in-law.

He was essentially a man of regular habits, always punctual to hours and in keeping appointments, and particularly neat and orderly in all he did. His friend Mr. Hopkins gave an amusing instance of the power of a long-continued habit. In his daily walk to and from Canal Street he was accustomed to cross the road at certain fixed points, and he would never allow anyone or anything to interfere with this practice. When these various stages in his walk were reached he would give Mr. Hopkins a gentle push from the causeway into the mud, and thus silently insist on crossing at the places he had been accustomed to.

All who were acquainted with Sir William Fairbairn will bear willing testimony to his high mindedness and integrity. Strictly honourable and sincere in all his dealings, he had the greatest abhorrence of all meanness; and guiding his conduct by the high standard of truth and right, he was one who could be invariably trusted.

He was very liberal, not only with his purse, but in his feelings and behaviour to those with whom lie came in contact. His activity in the cases of Cort and Roberts has already been noticed, and many other instances of his kindliness of feeling might have been cited. The following letter from one of his assistants only expresses what was a general sentiment among all who had served him:—

My dear Sir,— Your most generous present requires me to render again to you some imperfect acknowledgment of your kindness. I thank you much for that, but I value more the esteem you express in your letter. I have sometimes failed in doing what I might have done, but I am proud notwithstanding to have earned in some degree your respect.

I shall serve many masters and not find one who will treat me with so uniform a courtesy or such considerate trust.

I can only repeat that I shall always be glad, with such ability as I may have, and such opportunities as circumstances may permit, to assist you, or to preserve the record of your example as one of the most valuable heirlooms of all that you will leave for the benefit of men.

His sympathy with suffering and distress, together with his amiability and unsuspicious nature, made him sometimes an easy prey to impostors. This trustfulness, though no real loss to him, was often detrimental to his success as a man of business. Though fully alive to the value of money, he never made it an object of unworthy desire; simple in his tastes and wants, he was amply satisfied as long as he obtained sufficient for the comfort and usefulness of himself and his family.

In the gatherings at the Polygon there were often earnest discussions, and sometimes long arguments, in which he willingly joined. But in these cases he was always calm; and whenever the combatants in dispute became heated or excited, his favourite exclamation, ' Stop a moment, now, let us consider,' would generally bring them to reason.

He had little appreciation of refined wit, and the most skilful play upon words and the most appropriate quotations would scarcely move him ; but a good story, especially if it were a Scotch one, would of all things delight him, and he would recur to it again and again with fresh pleasure.

In private life Sir William Fairbairn was distinguished by a quiet dignity of manner, combined with a modesty, simplicity, courtesy, and gentleness, which won him all hearts, and made him a general favourite. Though without the advantage of early association with high-born people, he was by nature a gentleman in the best sense. He was a most faithful friend, never forgetting anyone who had shown him kindness or civility. He was thus known by thousands who were unknown to him, they having probably remembered some kindly word or act which he had forgotten. The people who sought his counsel were of all ranks and classes, and the very humblest of them never applied in vain. In Manchester especially his tall commanding figure and venerable white locks were known by everyone, and as he passed along the streets one heard constantly uttered, 'There's Fairbairn!' The universal esteem in which he was held was strikingly shown on the occasion of his funeral, of which an account has already been given.

As a parent he was most affectionate and indulgent, he always impressed on his children the necessity of independence of mind and action. 'Never play second fiddle to anyone' was his frequent advice to them. lie would help them to the utmost of his power in any worthy pursuit they undertook, even when opposed to the course he had marked out for them and wished them to follow. His appreciation of his eldest son's sacrifice for his interests was marked by his making him a partner in the profitable business before he came of age.

He was very fond of children. In the later years of his life he seemed to become quite young again in company with his grandchildren; and there was nothing he enjoyed more than a good romp with them, chasing them round the room amidst their screams of delight, singing them one of his songs, or giving the little ones a ride on his foot.

On the whole, most of his personal friends agree that his virtues were many and his faults few. He had perhaps an excessive ambition for popularity and fame; but this foible had one redeeming feature, namely, that he aimed not so much at obtaining the applause of the million as at standing well with the good and the wise.

Sir William Fairbairn was fond of drawing a moral from his own career. He would often, when lecturing to working men, or addressing students, allude, with pardonable pride, to the position he occupied, contrasting it with his humble origin. He would declare that it was by his own industry, perseverance, and determination that his success had been brought about, and he would urge on his hearers a like course of action.

He only consented to the publication of his biography on the ground that it might be for the benefit 'of those who have to encounter similar difficulties in life;' and it is earnestly hoped that the present work may fulfil the condition he so much desired.


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