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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Forty-One


HAVING been for more than fifty years a very keen whip and in use for many of these years to drive at a speed of from twelve to fourteen miles an hour—twelve on an average, and fourteen where the course was level or on a slightly descending gradient—the best pleasures of the road were well known to me. Many a time did I say in the past that if I were a Baird of Gartsherrie, or a Merry of Belladrum, that I would have the finest four-in-hand that could be turned out for money. But I always had a hankering after the road power vehicle, my leaning being towards the mechanical, and my reading telling me how the successful steam carriage had been crushed out eighty years ago by the ill-judged opposition of the landed interest, and the domineering selfishness of the railway magnate, who were blind to see what they are seeing now, that the road vehicle is a friend and not an enemy to their prosperity. But for their dead-set against it an efficient system of mechanical road transport would have been in operation eighty years ago, and the extravagant expenditure would not have been incurred upon the countless short-distance branches, which are so serious a handicap to railroad companies financial success, and give so inefficient a servi:e to the districts through which they pass, the intermediate stations bring often a mile or even two miles from the places to which the company professes to carry passengers and goods—witness Chirnside in Berwickshire, Kincardine on Forth on the Fife coast, and Muthill in Perthshire. These are but specimens, there are hundreds of others throughout the kingdom.

When Gottlieb Daimler demonstrated the feasability of power traction, by the use of light fuel in the explosion engine, my interest was at once excited. I had the pleasure of taking part in the first great demonstration of the practicability of mechanical road locomotion—the 1000 miles tour from London to Edinburgh and back in 1900, which was so ably organised by my friend, Claud jJhnson, the Secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland—a club consisting then of a handful of enthusiasts, but winch now numbers nearly 8000 members, and is housed <n the finest club-house in the world.

That tour was convincing. It was possible to observe many faults and deficiencies, just as Puffing Billy or the Rocket were poor things in comparison with the railroad greyhounds of to-day. But it was easy to see that the power was there, and that invention and experience were certain to bring about practical development and successful control of the power, resulting in efficiencys just as in the case of the railroad engine. But sanguine as we on that expedition were, I doubt if any one of us dreamt that the development would be so rapid, and that in twelve years the fast horsed vehicles in such a city as London would have dwindled down, as they did, to a five or even less proportion to the hundred of the fast vehicles on the street. Such a peaceful revolution has never taken place with similar rapidity in the history of the world. Now the numbers give still further witness to the predominance of the mechanical-carriage, and the proportion of power-commercial vehicles is rising daily. hey will soon in their turn be predominant. Opponents resolutely shut their eyes for some years, They pooh-poohed the whole movement, persuading themselves, and endeavouring to persuade others, that motor-traction was a temporary fad of the rich, and would soon begin to lose its fascination, like diabolo or ping-pong. My dear friend, Lord Ardwall—now, alas, no more with us—was one of our keenest opponents. I remember well when the Bench was in the retiring-room at lunch, about eight years ago, his putting on the most truculent expression that his abounding good-nature would permit. "My dear fellow, said he, "you will see, in another ten years there won't be half the motorcars on the road that there are now." All I said was, "Oh, indeed." It would have been vain to argue the point. Two years later, and I said to him on a similar occasion: "Ardwall, what is this I hear. Motors have been seen carrying you and yours down m Dumfriesshire lately—surely that can't be true." "Oh, well," he replied, "it's the young people, they would have it; they said they could not go to their friends as their friends came to them, and the boys made out that they must be able to get to distant shoots; but, said he emphatically, to show a rag of consistency, "I hire, I have never bought one.' How many thousands of similar cases have there not been, There is one comfort for those who have to listen to the sighs and groans of the laudator temp oris acti that whether he wears his mourning weeds till tempted to yield to a new fascination coming slowly over him, or whether he clings to the last to memories of his good old time, it is for his time only, and those who follow have no memory of a former attachment. The man who feels that he must "dree his weird" because of the abominations of the autocar, will, like Disrael's "Boots of the Red Lion, and chambermaid of the Blue Boar," who denounced the ignominy of railroads, have passed from the scene, and the power-vehicle be a matter of course to all, as -s the railway train, which caused much strong language seventy years ago.

And now man, with the aid of the petrol motor, has achieved flight through the air, fulfilling the last of Erasmus Darwin's prophecies, of what he expected from steam. Many were the efforts of enterprising inventors to produce a steam driven dying-machine, but all in vain. The accomplishmerit of such flight was brought as near as possible by the ingenious and inventive Hiram Maxim, but his failure was a demonstration of the practical :impossibility of flying on a heavier than air machine by steam-engine power. If he could not do it, safely be assumed that no one else could succeed. But in less than ten years the petrol engine has enabled aviators to demonstrate that flight through the air can be accomplished successfully. Whether this will lead, as some enthusiasts declare, to the mails being carried on land or across the seas by aeroplane is a different question. I shall only say that, looking at the matter all round, "I hae ma doots." That aviation will take an important place in war both on land and sea, where much must be risked, is beyond doubt. And it is certain to become a sport. The idea is fascinating, and its very risks are magnetic to draw the adventurous to try their fortune. But its application to regular daily services is a very different matter, there being good reason to doubt whether it could ever be as efficient and as convenient as a service on terra firma. These last two words recall to me a story of the old lady whose son was an enthusiast balloonist, and who tried to persuade her to make an ascent. "No, James, no," she replied; "I prefer to stick to terra cotta'!

The advent of the power vehicle has once more brought the road into a position of prominence in the interest of the public. When the railroad absorbed the mass of the traffic, the construction and upkeep of the road received little attention. Men without skill in road-making were appointed surveyors who had no training for such work, and the workers on the road were too often phys^ally unfit, being given wages as if they were able for efficient work, in order to keep them off the rates for relief of the poor. With the introduction of power traction, the necessity of skill in the making and management of roads became at once apparent, and the consequent increased burden upon the rates caused the Government to perceive that some aid must be given from imperial sources to encourage the local road authorities to improve the condition of the highways. This has led to my being provided with a really useful hobby, which it s probable will be my last. When H.M. Road Board was appointed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did me the honour to invite me to take a seat on the Board, and although my acceptance has led to many a long journey by day and by night, and will continue to do so, the work has been most enjoyable, and all the more so because of a growing confidence that much good is being accomplished. Besides consulting with the local authorities who apply for grants, and advising them as to the best means to be used for road improvement, much work of investigation has been carried on by the Board to ascertain how to select material that shall give the best results—what size of pieces to use for different layers of the road crust, what material to use for binding the metal together, how to provide a resident carpet at the surface, and how to consolidate the whole so as to give a surface which shall be impervious to water and shall have lasting qualities, so that the extra expense of providing and. skilfully laying shall so diminish the cost of maintenance, as to bring the overhead expense down to the level of if not below, that of the present unsatisfactory and inefficient roadway. Many an hour have I scent in the laboratory of the consulting engineer of the Board, my friend Colonel Crompton, and also at times in the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, where testing machinery both novel and efficient has been erected, by which various combinations of road metal and bituminous binder can be tried under practical road conditions, by wheels moved over specimens of the road crusts, at fixed pressure corresponding to that of road traffic. It s possible already to appeal to work actually done in counties near London and elsewhere in demonstration of success, and in London itself, the Thames Embankment, which formerly was as bad as the worst road iť the country, and was shunned by all drivers, is now the most popular approach to the City from the West, 1500 to 1600 vehicles passing over it every hour of the busy time of the day, and although It is never watered in the daytime, even in driest weather, it shows no dust rising from this heavy and continuous traffic.

Much remains to be accomplished, and while it is being worked out, the Road Board will very surely be favoured with many a shower of acrid crlicism, and many a questiona sked: "Why does the Road Board do this, and why doesn't it do that?" Well, as I have more than once said to colleagues on similar Boards, I say now: "The man in a public position of administration who is not prepared to submit to be abused is not fit for his post." The first essential for efficiency is that he shall be resolved to fulfil his duty, regardless of what critics may say or do. He must be willing to submit to be

"Damned with faint praise when well-laid plans prevail,
And to be rudely censured when they fail,"

leaving what he knows to be conscientious and wise actings to find their vindication by the test of time, if he is well assured that the course he has taken is right.

The concluding paragraph which follows was written at a time when I little thought that another "Jotting" would be necessary to make the record of past experiences complete to date, and that it must refer to war. The sudden outbreak of the greatest war the world has ever seen has to be added to the experiences of a life, during which many striking episodes have occurred, but never one to be compared with this. Its suddenness is like that of two former cases of the letting looseof the dogs of war, when the cry of "Peace. Peace,' was upon men's lips. History tells us that on an occasion near the close of the eighteenth century. William Pitt, speaking in Parliament, said that while 'twas not wise for the politician to prophesy, yet never, so far as he could discern, had there been a more hopeful prospect of European peace than at the time at which he was speaking. Yet the horrors of the French Revolution, and the ravages of the long wars that culminated at Waterloo, were then at the very door. Lord Granville made a statement to a similar effect immediately before the outbreak of the Franco-German War in 1870, followed as it was by the atrocities of the Commune. And now. one of our leading statesmen, speaking doubtless with a knowledge of what was the mind of the Cabinet, made a similar statement, with in a very short time before a treaty binding the. nations of Europe was spoken of in tones of contempt as "a scrap of paper, " to be torn up with the cynical acknowledgment that to do so was a "wrong," and excused on the unblushing application to such a case of the maxim, "Necessity knows no law. The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed the thought of statesmen before the opening of the war:

"Everything was as clear as dawn, not a cloud any where. Not one of our representatives in any part of the world had the least idea that war was near."

Once more the soil of Europe is being stained with the blood of thousands of a small but gallant nation who admittedly have done no wrong, because they are honourable enough to fulfil their solemnly undertaken engagements, a nation calling itself "great" breaks its solemn word, admits it is doing "wrong," and for its own ends carries out its expressed intention to "hack its way through," and Great Britain has been compelled, if she was not to be an associate in so gross a breach of honour and humanity, to draw the sword in support of her pledged word.

This a thing to be legitimately proud of, that the nation responds as it; has done, is still doing, and will still do, to the call of duty, and faces the sacrifice, great though it must be, with a cheerful spirit. One who is nearly an octogenarian might have felt himself for that reason shut out from active participation in the work which such a crisis calls for from the citizen. But I am glad that work has been found for me which is from old association congenial, and may, it is hoped, be of some service. The Territorials of the ancient. Royal Burgh, near which I live in the holiday season, were mobilised at once on the breaking out of the war, being called away to guard the Forth Bridge and the neighbourhood of Rosyth. Thus there was no officer or drill-sergeant left in the burgh, from whom any instruction could be obtained for men willing to join an emergency company, so that more citizens might be trained, in case their services should be required later. his difficulty having been expressed to mo, it was a real pleasure to offer to do drill-sergeant, if men wished to come forward.

They did come forward, and on applying to the Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, he informed me that while such men could not be enrolled in any official organisation at present, there could be no objection to training being given to them, which might make their attaining efficiency more easy, if later they were drafted into any official unit. Accordingly, for more than two months some five-and-thirty or forty men have presented themselves at drill three nights a week, and I have been grinding them as I did when I trained my company fifty-five years ago. Their regular attendance and steady conduct are a symbol in our little community of what one is well assured is the feeling of the whole nation. If the same number of men in proportion can be enrolled in every place of the same proportion and size as my small burgh, Lord Kitchener would find his second half million rough hewn, and ready to take their places for more complete training. No one can doubt that this would facilitate their being made efficient, so saving time. By the liberality of gentlemen in the neighbourhood, rifles are being obtained, so that I am able to give them instruction in the handling of the weapon, and prepare them for rifle practice at the minature target range belonging to the Terriitorilal company, now mobilised. It is a joy to be thus able to give, even in my old age, a little help to a great work—the work of ensuring, as Disraeli said, that "right be done," and to take a small part in what thousands of men and women are doing voluntarily to help those on whom the active and the trying work must fall. I have also been training about thirty boy scouts, there being at the moment no scout-master available. It is probably the last opportunity I shall have of doing something for King and country—small, but it is all I have to give.

And now, kind reader—for you must have been kind if you have come to this page—I wish you a hearty farewell, happy if these Jottings have wiled away a few hours of leisure, still more if in wandering through them a flower has been plucked here and there because it gave pleasure, or a fruit has been found that has been worth gathering. The putting of them together has revived many a memory of kindly intercourse, and many a grateful thought for kind deeds. It was by suggestion and not of my own motive that I was led to put the Jottings together; but I have found the doing of it pleasurable, and would fain hope that to those who have read them there may also have been some pleasure at times, as the reader made his way through the autumn leaves of a long life. And so, once more Adieu.


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