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The Life of Thomas Telford
Chapter XV. Mr Telford's later years--His death and character


When Mr. Telford had occasion to visit London on business during the early period of his career, his quarters were at the Salopian Coffee House, now the Ship Hotel, at Charing Cross. It is probable that his Shropshire connections led him in the first instance to the 'Salopian;' but the situation being near to the Houses of Parliament, and in many respects convenient for the purposes of his business, he continued to live there for no less a period than twenty-one years. During that time the Salopian became a favourite resort of engineers; and not only Telford's provincial associates, but numerous visitors from abroad (where his works attracted even more attention than they did in England) took up their quarters there. Several apartments were specially reserved for Telford's exclusive use, and he could always readily command any additional accommodation for purposes of business or hospitality.

The successive landlords of the Salopian came to regard the engineer as a fixture, and even bought and sold him from time to time with the goodwill of the business. When he at length resolved, on the persuasion of his friends, to take a house of his own, and gave notice of his intention of leaving, the landlord, who had but recently entered into possession, almost stood aghast. "What! leave the house!" said he; "Why, Sir, I have just paid 750L. for you!" On explanation it appeared that this price had actually been paid by him to the outgoing landlord, on the assumption that Mr. Telford was a fixture of the hotel; the previous tenant having paid 450L. for him; the increase in the price marking very significantly the growing importance of the engineer's position. There was, however, no help for the disconsolate landlord, and Telford left the Salopian to take possession of his new house at 24, Abingdon Street. Labelye, the engineer of Westminster Bridge, had formerly occupied the dwelling; and, at a subsequent period, Sir William Chambers, the architect of Somerset House, Telford used to take much pleasure in pointing out to his visitors the painting of Westminster Bridge, impanelled in the wall over the parlour mantelpiece, made for Labelye by an Italian artist whilst the bridge works were in progress. In that house Telford continued to live until the close of his life.

One of the subjects in which he took much interest during his later years was the establishment of the Institute of Civil Engineers. In 1818 a Society had been formed, consisting principally of young men educated to civil and mechanical engineering, who occasionally met to discuss matters of interest relating to their profession. As early as the time of Smeaton, a social meeting of engineers was occasionally held at an inn in Holborn, which was discontinued in 1792, in consequence of some personal differences amongst the members. It was revived in the following year, under the auspices of Mr. Jessop, Mr. Naylor, Mr. Rennie, and Mr. Whitworth, and joined by other gentlemen of scientific distinction. They were accustomed to dine together every fortnight at the Crown and Anchor in the Strand, spending the evening in conversation on engineering subjects. But as the numbers and importance of the profession increased, the desire began to be felt, especially among the junior members of the profession, for an institution of a more enlarged character. Hence the movement above alluded to, which led to an invitation being given to Mr. Telford to accept the office of President of the proposed Engineers' Institute. To this he consented, and entered upon the duties of the office on the 21st of March, 1820.*[1] During the remainder of his life, Mr. Telford continued to watch over the progress of the Society, which gradually grew in importance and usefulness. He supplied it with the nucleus of a reference library, now become of great value to its members. He established the practice of recording the proceedings,*[2] minutes of discussions, and substance of the papers read, which has led to the accumulation, in the printed records of the Institute, of a vast body of information as to engineering practice. In 1828 he exerted himself strenuously and successfully in obtaining a Charter of Incorporation for the Society; and finally, at his death, he left the Institute their first bequest of 2000L., together with many valuable books, and a large collection of documents which had been subservient to his own professional labours.

In the distinguished position which he occupied, it was natural that Mr. Telford should be called upon, as he often was, towards the close of his life, to give his opinion and advice as to projects of public importance. Where strongly conflicting opinions were entertained on any subject, his help was occasionally found most valuable; for he possessed great tact and suavity of manner, which often enabled him to reconcile opposing interests when they stood in the way of important enterprises.

In 1828 he was appointed one of the commissioners to investigate the subject of the supply of water to the metropolis, in conjunction with Dr. Roget and Professor Brande, and the result was the very able report published in that year. Only a few months before his death, in 1834, he prepared and sent in an elaborate separate report, containing many excellent practical suggestions, which had the effect of stimulating the efforts of the water companies, and eventually leading, to great improvements.

On the subject of roads, Telford continued to be the very highest authority, his friend Southey jocularly styling him the "Colossus of Roads." The Russian Government frequently consulted him with reference to the new roads with which that great empire was being opened up. The Polish road from Warsaw to Briesc, on the Russian frontier, 120 miles in length, was constructed after his plans, and it remains, we believe, the finest road in the Russian dominions to this day.


Section of Polish Road

He was consulted by the Austrian Government on the subject of bridges as well as roads. Count Szechenyi recounts the very agreeable and instructive interview which he had with Telford when he called to consult him as to the bridge proposed to be erected across the Danube, between the towns of Buda and Pesth. On a suspension bridge being suggested by the English engineer, the Count, with surprise, asked if such an erection was possible under the circumstances he had described? "We do not consider anything to be impossible," replied Telford; "impossibilities exist chiefly in the prejudices of mankind, to which some are slaves, and from which few are able to emancipate themselves and enter on the path of truth." But supposing a suspension bridge were not deemed advisable under the circumstances, and it were considered necessary altogether to avoid motion, "then," said he, "I should recommend you to erect a cast iron bridge of three spans, each 400 feet; such a bridge will have no motion, and though half the world lay a wreck, it would still stand."*[3] A suspension bridge was eventually resolved upon. It was constructed by one of Mr. Telford's ablest pupils, Mr. Tierney Clark, between the years 1839 and 1850, and is justly regarded as one of the greatest triumphs of English engineering, the Buda-Pesth people proudly declaring it to be "the eighth wonder of the world."

At a time when speculation was very rife--in the year 1825-- Mr. Telford was consulted respecting a grand scheme for cutting a canal across the Isthmus of Darien; and about the same time he was employed to resurvey the line for a ship canal--which had before occupied the attention of Whitworth and Rennie--between Bristol and the English Channel. But although he gave great attention to this latter project, and prepared numerous plans and reports upon it, and although an Act was actually passed enabling it to be carried out, the scheme was eventually abandoned, like the preceding ones with the same object, for want of the requisite funds.

Our engineer had a perfect detestation of speculative jobbing in all its forms, though on one occasion he could not help being used as an instrument by schemers. A public company was got up at Liverpool, in 1827, to form a broad and deep ship canal, of about seven miles in length, from opposite Liverpool to near Helbre Isle, in the estuary of the Dee; its object being to enable the shipping of the port to avoid the variable shoals and sand-banks which obstruct the entrance to the Mersey. Mr. Telford entered on the project with great zeal, and his name was widely quoted in its support. It appeared, however, that one of its principal promoters, who had secured the right of pre-emption of the land on which the only possible entrance to the canal could be formed on the northern side, suddenly closed with the corporation of Liverpool, who were opposed to the plan, and "sold", his partners as well as the engineer for a large sum of money. Telford, disgusted at being made the instrument of an apparent fraud upon the public, destroyed all the documents relating to the scheme, and never afterwards spoke of it except in terms of extreme indignation.

About the same time, the formation of locomotive railways was extensively discussed, and schemes were set on foot to construct them between several of the larger towns. But Mr. Telford was now about seventy years old; and, desirous of limiting the range of his business rather than extending it, he declined to enter upon this new branch of engineering. Yet, in his younger days, he had surveyed numerous lines of railway--amongst others, one as early as the year 1805, from Glasgow to Berwick, down the vale of the Tweed. A line from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Carlisle was also surveyed and reported on by him some years later; and the Stratford and Moreton Railway was actually constructed under his direction. He made use of railways in all his large works of masonry, for the purpose of facilitating the haulage of materials to the points at which they were required to be deposited or used. There is a paper of his on the Inland Navigation of the County of Salop, contained in 'The Agricultural Survey of Shropshire,' in which he speaks of the judicious use of railways, and recommends that in all future surveys "it be an instruction to the engineers that they do examine the county with a view of introducing iron railways wherever difficulties may occur with regard to the making of navigable canals." When the project of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was started, we are informed that he was offered the appointment of engineer; but he declined, partly because of his advanced age, but also out of a feeling of duty to his employers, the Canal Companies, stating that he could not lend his name to a scheme which, if carried out, must so materially affect their interests.

Towards the close of his life, he was afflicted by deafness, which made him feel exceedingly uncomfortable in mixed society. Thanks to a healthy constitution, unimpaired by excess and invigorated by active occupation, his working powers had lasted longer than those of most men. He was still cheerful, clear-headed, and skilful in the arts of his profession, and felt the same pleasure in useful work that he had ever done. It was, therefore, with difficulty that he could reconcile himself to the idea of retiring from the field of honourable labour, which he had so long occupied, into a state of comparative inactivity. But he was not a man who could be idle, and he determined, like his great predecessor Smeaton, to occupy the remaining years of his life in arranging his engineering papers for publication. Vigorous though he had been, he felt that the time was shortly approaching when the wheels of life must stand still altogether. Writing to a friend at Langholm, he said, "Having now being occupied for about seventy-five years in incessant exertion, I have for some time past arranged to decline the contest; but the numerous works in which I am engaged have hitherto prevented my succeeding. In the mean time I occasionally amuse myself with setting down in what manner a long life has been laboriously, and I hope usefully, employed." And again, a little later, he writes: "During the last twelve months I have had several rubs; at seventy-seven they tell more seriously than formerly, and call for less exertion and require greater precautions. I fancy that few of my age belonging to the valley of the Esk remain in the land of the living."*[4]

One of the last works on which Mr. Telford was professionally consulted was at the instance of the Duke of Wellington--not many years younger than himself, but of equally vigorous intellectual powers--as to the improvement of Dover Harbour, then falling rapidly to decay. The long-continued south-westerly gales of 1833-4 had the effect of rolling an immense quantity of shingle up Channel towards that port, at the entrance to which it became deposited in unusual quantities, so as to render it at times altogether inaccessible. The Duke, as a military man, took a more than ordinary interest in the improvement of Dover, as the military and naval station nearest to the French coast; and it fell to him as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports to watch over the preservation of the harbour, situated at a point in the English Channel which he regarded as of great strategic importance in the event of a continental war. He therefore desired Mr. Telford to visit the place and give his opinion as to the most advisable mode of procedure with a view to improving the harbour. The result was a report, in which the engineer recommended a plan of sluicing, similar to that adopted by Mr. Smeaton at Ramsgate, which was afterwards carried out with considerable success by Mr. James Walker, C.E.

This was his last piece of professional work. A few months later he was laid up by bilious derangement of a serious character, which recurred with increased violence towards the close of the year; and on the 2nd of September, 1834, Thomas Telford closed his useful and honoured career, at the advanced age of seventy-seven. With that absence of ostentation which characterised him through life, he directed that his remains should be laid, without ceremony, in the burial ground of the parish church of St. Margaret's, Westminster. But the members of the Institute of Civil Engineers, who justly deemed him their benefactor and chief ornament, urged upon his executors the propriety of interring him in Westminster Abbey.


Telford's Burial Place in Westminster Abbey

He was buried there accordingly, near the middle of the nave; where the letters, "Thomas Telford, 1834, mark the place beneath which he lies.*[5] The adjoining stone bears the inscription, "Robert Stephenson, 1859," that engineer having during his life expressed the wish that his body should be laid near that of Telford; and the son of the Killingworth engineman thus sleeps by the side of the son of the Eskdale shepherd.

It was a long, a successful, and a useful life which thus ended. Every step in his upward career, from the poor peasant's hut in Eskdale to Westminster Abbey, was nobly and valorously won. The man was diligent and conscientious; whether as a working mason hewing stone blocks at Somerset House, as a foreman of builders at Portsmouth, as a road surveyor at Shrewsbury, or as an engineer of bridges, canals, docks, and harbours. The success which followed his efforts was thoroughly well-deserved. He was laborious, pains-taking, and skilful; but, what was better, he was honest and upright. He was a most reliable man; and hence he came to be extensively trusted. Whatever he undertook, he endeavoured to excel in. He would be a first-rate hewer, and he became one. He was himself accustomed to attribute much of his success to the thorough way in which he had mastered the humble beginnings of this trade. He was even of opinion that the course of manual training he had undergone, and the drudgery, as some would call it, of daily labour --first as an apprentice, and afterwards as a journeyman mason-- had been of greater service to him than if he had passed through the curriculum of a University.

Writing to his friend, Miss Malcolm, respecting a young man who desired to enter the engineering profession, he in the first place endeavoured to dissuade the lady from encouraging the ambition of her protege, the profession being overstocked, and offering very few prizes in proportion to the large number of blanks. "But," he added, "if civil engineering, notwithstanding these discouragements, is still preferred, I may point out that the way in which both Mr. Rennie and myself proceeded, was to serve a regular apprenticeship to some practical employment--he to a millwright, and I to a general house-builder. In this way we secured the means, by hard labour, of earning a subsistence; and, in time, we obtained by good conduct the confidence of our employers and the public; eventually rising into the rank of what is called Civil Engineering. This is the true way of acquiring practical skill, a thorough knowledge of the materials employed in construction, and last, but not least, a perfect knowledge of the habits and dispositions of the workmen who carry out our designs. This course, although forbidding to many a young person, who believes it possible to find a short and rapid path to distinction, is proved to be otherwise by the two examples I have cited. For my own part, I may truly aver that 'steep is the ascent, and slippery is the way.'"*[6] That Mr. Telford was enabled to continue to so advanced an age employed on laborious and anxious work, was no doubt attributable in a great measure to the cheerfulness of his nature. He was, indeed, a most happy-minded man. It will be remembered that, when a boy, he had been known in his valley as "Laughing Tam." The same disposition continued to characterise him in his old age. He was playful and jocular, and rejoiced in the society of children and young people, especially when well-informed and modest. But when they pretended to acquirements they did not possess, he was quick to detect and see through them. One day a youth expatiated to him in very large terms about a friend of his, who had done this and that, and made so and so, and could do all manner of wonderful things. Telford listened with great attention, and when the youth had done - he quietly asked, with a twinkle in his eye, "Pray, can your friend lay eggs?"

When in society he gave himself up to it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He did not sit apart, a moody and abstracted "lion;" nor desire to be regarded as "the great engineer," pondering new Menai Bridges; But he appeared in his natural character of a simple, intelligent, cheerful companion; as ready to laugh at his own jokes as at other people's; and he was as communicative to a child as to any philosopher of the party.

Robert Southey, than whom there was no better judge of a loveable man, said of him, "I would go a long way for the sake of seeing Telford and spending a few days in his company." Southey, as we have seen, had the best opportunities of knowing him well; for a long journey together extending over many weeks, is, probably, better than anything else, calculated to bring out the weak as well as the strong points of a friend: indeed, many friendships have completely broken down under the severe test of a single week's tour. But Southey on that occasion firmly cemented a friendship which lasted until Telford's death. On one occasion the latter called at the poet's house, in company with Sir Henry Parnell, when engaged upon the survey of one of his northern roads. Unhappily Southey was absent at the time; and, writing about the circumstance to a correspondent, he said, "This was a mortification to me, in as much as I owe Telford every kind of friendly attention, and like him heartily."

Campbell, the poet, was another early friend of our engineer; and the attachment seems to have been mutual. Writing to Dr. Currie, of Liverpool, in 1802, Campbell says: "I have become acquainted with Telford the engineer, 'a fellow of infinite humour,' and of strong enterprising mind. He has almost made me a bridge-builder already; at least he has inspired me with new sensations of interest in the improvement and ornament of our country. Have you seen his plan of London Bridge? or his scheme for a new canal in the North Highlands, which will unite, if put in effect, our Eastern and Atlantic commerce, and render Scotland the very emporium of navigation? Telford is a most useful cicerone in London. He is so universally acquainted, and so popular in his manners, that he can introduce one to all kinds of novelty, and all descriptions of interesting society." Shortly after, Campbell named his first son after Telford, who stood godfather for the boy. Indeed, for many years, Telford played the part of Mentor to the young and impulsive poet, advising him about his course in life, trying to keep him steady, and holding him aloof as much as possible from the seductive allurements of the capital. But it was a difficult task, and Telford's numerous engagements necessarily left the poet at many seasons very much to himself. It appears that they were living together at the Salopian when Campbell composed the first draft of his poem of Hohenlinden; and several important emendations made in it by Telford were adopted by Campbell. Although the two friends pursued different roads in life, and for many years saw little of each other, they often met again, especially after Telford took up his abode at his house in Abingdon Street, where Campbell was a frequent and always a welcome guest.

When engaged upon his surveys, our engineer was the same simple, cheerful, laborious man. While at work, he gave his whole mind to the subject in hand, thinking of nothing else for the time; dismissing it at the close of each day's work, but ready to take it up afresh with the next day's duties. This was a great advantage to him as respected the prolongation of his working faculty. He did not take his anxieties to bed with him, as many do, and rise up with them in the morning; but he laid down the load at the end of each day, and resumed it all the more cheerfully when refreshed and invigorated by natural rest, It was only while the engrossing anxieties connected with the suspension of the chains of Menai Bridge were weighing heavily upon his mind, that he could not sleep; and then, age having stolen upon him, he felt the strain almost more than he could bear. But that great anxiety once fairly over, his spirits speedily resumed their wonted elasticity.

When engaged upon the construction of the Carlisle and Glasgow road, he was very fond of getting a few of the "navvy men," as he called them, to join him at an ordinary at the Hamilton Arms Hotel, Lanarkshire, each paying his own expenses. On such occasions Telford would say that, though he could not drink, yet he would carve and draw corks for them. One of the rules he laid down was that no business was to be introduced from the moment they sat down to dinner. All at once, from being the plodding, hard-working engineer, with responsibility and thought in every feature, Telford unbended and relaxed, and became the merriest and drollest of the party. He possessed a great fund of anecdote available for such occasions, had an extraordinary memory for facts relating to persons and families, and the wonder to many of his auditors was, how in all the world a man living in London should know so much better about their locality and many of its oddities than they did themselves.

In his leisure hours at home, which were but few, he occupied himself a good deal in the perusal of miscellaneous literature, never losing his taste for poetry. He continued to indulge in the occasional composition of verses until a comparatively late period of his life; one of his most successful efforts being a translation of the 'Ode to May,' from Buchanan's Latin poems, executed in a very tender and graceful manner. That he might be enabled to peruse engineering works in French and German, he prosecuted the study of those languages, and with such success that he was shortly able to read them with comparative ease. He occasionally occupied himself in literary composition on subjects connected with his profession. Thus he wrote for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, conducted by his friend Sir David (then Dr.) Brewster, the elaborate and able articles on Architecture, Bridge-building, and Canal-making. Besides his contributions to that work, he advanced a considerable sum of money to aid in its publication, which remained a debt due to his estate at the period of his death.

Notwithstanding the pains that Telford took in the course of his life to acquire a knowledge of the elements of natural science, it is somewhat remarkable to find him holding; acquirements in mathematics so cheap. But probably this is to be accounted for by the circumstance of his education being entirely practical, and mainly self-acquired. When a young man was on one occasion recommended to him as a pupil because of his proficiency in mathematics, the engineer expressed the opinion that such acquirements were no recommendation. Like Smeaton, he held that deductions drawn from theory were never to be trusted; and he placed his reliance mainly on observation, experience, and carefully-conducted experiments. He was also, like most men of strong practical sagacity, quick in mother wit, and arrived rapidly at conclusions, guided by a sort of intellectual instinct which can neither be defined nor described.*[7] Although occupied as a leading engineer for nearly forty years-- having certified contractors' bills during that time amounting to several millions sterling--he died in comparatively moderate circumstances. Eminent constructive ability was not very highly remunerated in Telford's time, and he was satisfied with a rate of pay which even the smallest "M. I. C. E." would now refuse to accept. Telford's charges were, however, perhaps too low; and a deputation of members of the profession on one occasion formally expostulated with him on the subject.

Although he could not be said to have an indifference for money, he yet estimated it as a thing worth infinitely less than character; and every penny that he earned was honestly come by. He had no wife, *[8] nor family, nor near relations to provide for,--only himself in his old age. Not being thought rich, he was saved the annoyance of being haunted by toadies or pestered by parasites. His wants were few, and his household expenses small; and though he entertained many visitors and friends, it was in a quiet way and on a moderate scale. The small regard he had for personal dignity may be inferred from the fact, that to the last he continued the practice, which he had learnt when a working mason, of darning his own stockings.*[9]

Telford nevertheless had the highest idea of the dignity of his profession; not because of the money it would produce, but of the great things it was calculated to accomplish. In his most confidential letters we find him often expatiating on the noble works he was engaged in designing or constructing, and the national good they were calculated to produce, but never on the pecuniary advantages he himself was to derive from them. He doubtless prized, and prized highly, the reputation they would bring him; and, above all, there seemed to be uppermost in his mind, especially in the earlier part of his career, while many of his schoolfellows were still alive, the thought of "What will they say of this in Eskdale?" but as for the money results to himself, Telford seemed, to the close of his life, to regard them as of comparatively small moment.

During the twenty-one years that he acted as principal engineer for the Caledonian Canal, we find from the Parliamentary returns that the amount paid to him for his reports, detailed plans, and superintendence, was exactly 237L. a year. Where he conceived any works to be of great public importance, and he found them to be promoted by public-spirited persons at their own expense, he refused to receive any payment for his labour, or even repayment of the expenses incurred by him. Thus, while employed by the Government in the improvement of the Highland roads, he persuaded himself that he ought at the same time to promote the similar patriotic objects of the British Fisheries Society, which were carried out by voluntary subscription; and for many years he acted as their engineer, refusing to accept any remuneration whatever for his trouble.*[10]

Telford held the sordid money-grubber in perfect detestation. He was of opinion that the adulation paid to mere money was one of the greatest dangers with which modern society was threatened. "I admire commercial enterprise," he would say; "it is the vigorous outgrowth of our industrial life: I admire everything that gives it free scope:, as, wherever it goes, activity, energy, intelligence-- all that we call civilization--accompany it; but I hold that the aim and end of all ought not to be a mere bag, of money, but something far higher and far better."

Writing once to his Langholm correspondent about an old schoolfellow, who had grown rich by scraping, Telford said: "Poor Bob L---- His industry and sagacity were more than counterbalanced by his childish vanity and silly avarice, which rendered his friendship dangerous, and his conversation tiresome. He was like a man in London, whose lips, while walking by himself along the streets, were constantly ejaculating 'Money! Money!' But peace to Bob's memory: I need scarcely add, confusion to his thousands!" Telford was himself most careful in resisting the temptations to which men in his position are frequently exposed; but he was preserved by his honest pride, not less than by the purity of his character. He invariably refused to receive anything in the shape of presents or testimonials from persons employed under him. He would not have even the shadow of an obligation stand in the way of his duty to those who employed him to watch over and protect their interests. During the many years that he was employed on public works, no one could ever charge him in the remotest degree with entering into a collusion with contractors. He looked upon such arrangements as degrading and infamous, and considered that they meant nothing less than an inducement to "scamping," which he would never tolerate.

His inspection of work was most rigid. The security of his structures was not a question of money, but of character. As human life depended upon their stability, not a point was neglected that could ensure it. Hence, in his selection of resident engineers and inspectors of works, he exercised the greatest possible precautions; and here his observation of character proved of essential value. Mr. Hughes says he never allowed any but his most experienced and confidential assistants to have anything to do with exploring the foundations of buildings he was about to erect. His scrutiny into the qualifications of those employed about such structures extended to the subordinate overseers, and even to the workmen, insomuch that men whose general habits had before passed unnoticed, and whose characters had never been inquired into, did not escape his observation when set to work in operations connected with foundations.*[11] If he detected a man who gave evidences of unsteadiness, inaccuracy, or carelessness, he would reprimand the overseer for employing such a person, and order him to be removed to some other part of the undertaking where his negligence could do no harm. And thus it was that Telford put his own character, through those whom he employed, into the various buildings which he was employed to construct.

But though Telford was comparatively indifferent about money, he was not without a proper regard for it, as a means of conferring benefits on others, and especially as a means of being independent. At the close of his life he had accumulated as much as, invested at interest, brought him in about 800L. a year, and enabled him to occupy the house in Abingdon Street in which he died. This was amply sufficient for his wants, and more than enough for his independence. It enabled him also to continue those secret acts of benevolence which constituted perhaps the most genuine pleasure of his life. It is one of the most delightful traits in this excellent man's career to find him so constantly occupied in works of spontaneous charity, in quarters so remote and unknown that it is impossible the slightest feeling of ostentation could have sullied the purity of the acts. Among the large mass of Telford's private letters which have been submitted to us, we find frequent reference to sums of money transmitted for the support of poor people in his native valley. At new year's time he regularly sent remittances of from 30L. to 50L., to be distributed by the kind Miss Malcolm of Burnfoot, and, after her death, by Mr. Little, the postmaster at Langholm; and the contributions thus so kindly made, did much to fend off the winter's cold, and surround with many small comforts those who most needed help, but were perhaps too modest to ask it.*[12]

Many of those in the valley of the Esk had known of Telford in his younger years as a poor barefooted boy; though now become a man of distinction, he had too much good sense to be ashamed of his humble origin; perhaps he even felt proud that, by dint of his own valorous and persevering efforts, he had been able to rise so much above it. Throughout his long life, his heart always warmed at the thought of Eskdale. He rejoiced at the honourable rise of Eskdale men as reflecting credit upon his "beloved valley." Thus, writing to his Langholm correspondent with reference to the honours conferred on the different members of the family of Malcolm, he said: "The distinctions so deservedly bestowed upon the Burnfoot family, establish a splendid era in Eskdale; and almost tempt your correspondent to sport his Swedish honours, which that grateful country has repeatedly, in spite of refusal, transmitted."

It might be said that there was narrowness and provincialism in this; But when young men are thrown into the world, with all its temptations and snares, it is well that the recollections of home and kindred should survive to hold them in the path of rectitude, and cheer them in their onward and upward course in life. And there is no doubt that Telford was borne up on many occasions by the thought of what the folks in the valley would say about him and his progress in life, when they met together at market, or at the Westerkirk porch on Sabbath mornings. In this light, provincialism or local patriotism is a prolific source of good, and may be regarded as among the most valuable and beautiful emanations of the parish life of our country. Although Telford was honoured with the titles and orders of merit conferred upon him by foreign monarchs, what he esteemed beyond them all was the respect and gratitude of his own countrymen; and, not least, the honour which his really noble and beneficent career was calculated to reflect upon "the folks of the nook," the remote inhabitants of his native Eskdale.

When the engineer proceeded to dispose of his savings by will, which he did a few months before his death, the distribution was a comparatively easy matter. The total amount of his bequeathments was 16,600L.*[13] About one-fourth of the whole he set apart for educational purposes, --2000L. to the Civil Engineers' Institute, and 1000L. each to the ministers of Langholm and Westerkirk, in trust for the parish libraries. The rest was bequeathed, in sums of from 200L. to 500L., to different persons who had acted as clerks, assistants, and surveyors, in his various public works; and to his intimate personal friends. Amongst these latter were Colonel Pasley, the nephew of his early benefactor; Mr. Rickman, Mr. Milne, and Mr. Hope, his three executors; and Robert Southey and Thomas Campbell, the poets. To both of these last the gift was most welcome. Southey said of his: "Mr. Telford has most kindly and
unexpectedly left me 500L., with a share of his residuary property, which I am told will make it amount in all to 850L. This is truly a godsend, and I am most grateful for it. It gives me the comfortable knowledge that, if it should please God soon to take me from this world, my family would have resources fully sufficient for their support till such time as their affairs could be put in order, and the proceeds of my books, remains, &c., be rendered available. I have never been anxious overmuch, nor ever taken more thought for the morrow than it is the duty of every one to take who has to earn his livelihood; but to be thus provided for at this time I feel to be an especial blessing.'"*[14] Among the most valuable results of Telford's bequests in his own district, was the establishment of the popular libraries at Langholm and Westerkirk, each of which now contains about 4000 volumes. That at Westerkirk had been originally instituted in the year 1792, by the miners employed to work an antimony mine (since abandoned) on the farm of Glendinning, within sight of the place where Telford was born. On the dissolution of the mining company, in 1800, the little collection of books was removed to Kirkton Hill; but on receipt of Telford's bequest, a special building was erected for their reception at Old Bentpath near the village of Westerkirk. The annual income derived from the Telford fund enabled additions of new volumes to be made to it from time to time; and its uses as a public institution were thus greatly increased. The books are exchanged once a month, on the day of the full moon; on which occasion readers of all ages and conditions,--farmers, shepherds, ploughmen, labourers, and their children,--resort to it from far and near, taking away with them as many volumes as they desire for the month's readings.

Thus there is scarcely a cottage in the valley in which good books are not to be found under perusal; and we are told that it is a common thing for the Eskdale shepherd to take a book in his plaid to the hill-side--a volume of Shakespeare, Prescott, or Macaulay-- and read it there, under the blue sky, with his sheep and the green hills before him. And thus, so long as the bequest lasts, the good, great engineer will not cease to be remembered with gratitude in his beloved Eskdale.

Footnotes for Chapter XV.

*[1] In his inaugural address to the members on taking the chair, the President pointed out that the principles of the Institution rested on the practical efforts and unceasing perseverance of the members themselves. "In foreign countries," he said, "similar establishments are instituted by government, and their members and proceedings are under their control; but here, a different course being adopted, it becomes incumbent on each individual member to feel that the very existence and prosperity of the Institution depend, in no small degree, on his personal conduct and exertions; and my merely mentioning the circumstance will, I am convinced, be sufficient to command the best efforts of the present and future members."

*[2] We are informed by Joseph Mitchell, Esq., C.E., of the origin of this practice. Mr. Mitchell was a pupil of Mr. Telford's, living with him in his house at 24, Abingdon Street. It was the engineer's custom to have a dinner party every Tuesday, after which his engineering friends were invited to accompany him to the Institution, the meetings of which were then held on Tuesday evenings in a house in Buckingham Street, Strand. The meetings did not usually consist of more than from twenty to thirty persons. Mr. Mitchell took notes of the conversations which followed the reading of the papers. Mr. Telford afterwards found his pupil extending the notes, on which he asked permission to read them, and was so much pleased that he took them to the next meeting and read them to the members. Mr. Mitchell was then formally appointed reporter of conversations to the Institute; and the custom having been continued, a large mass of valuable practical information has thus been placed on record.

*[3] Supplement to Weale's 'Bridges,' Count Szechenyi's Report, p. 18.

*[4] Letter to Mrs. Little, Langholm, 28th August, 1833.

*[5] A statue of him, by Bailey, has since been placed in the east aisle of the north transept, known as the Islip Chapel. It is considered a fine work, but its effect is quite lost in consequence of the crowded state of the aisle, which has very much the look of a sculptor's workshop. The subscription raised for the purpose of erecting the statue was 1000L., of which 200L. was paid to the Dean for permission to place it within the Abbey.

*[6] Letter to Miss Malcolm, Burnfoot, Langholm, dated 7th October, 1830.

*[7] Sir David Brewster, observes on this point: "It is difficult to analyse that peculiar faculty of mind which directs a successful engineer who is not guided by the deductions of the exact sciences; but it must consist mainly in the power of observing the effects of natural causes acting in a variety of circumstances; and in the judicious application of this knowledge to cases when the same causes come into operation. But while this sagacity is a prominent feature in the designs of Mr. Telford, it appears no less distinctly in the choice of the men by whom they were to be practically executed. His quick perception of character, his honesty of purpose, and his contempt for all otheracquirements,-- save that practical knowledge and experience which was best fitted to accomplish, in the best manner, the object he had in view,--have enables him to leave behind him works of inestimable value, and monuments of professional celebrity which have not been surpassed either in Britain or in Europe."--'Edinburgh Review,' vol. lxx. p. 46.

*[8] It seems singular that with Telford's great natural powers of pleasing, his warm social temperament, and his capability of forming ardent attachments for friends, many of them women, he should never have formed an attachment of the heart. Even in his youthful and poetical days, the subject of love, so frequently the theme of boyish song, is never alluded to; while his school friendships are often recalled to mind and, indeed, made the special subject of his verse. It seems odd to find him, when at Shrewsbury--a handsome fellow, with a good position, and many beautiful women about him--addressing his friend, the blind schoolmaster at Langholm, as his "Stella"!

*[9] Mr. Mitchell says: "He lived at the rate of about 1200L. a year. He kept a carriage, but no horses, and used his carriage principally for making his journeys through the country on business. I once accompanied him to Bath and Cornwall, when he made me keep an accurate journal of all I saw. He used to lecture us on being independent, even in little matters, and not ask servants to do for us what we might easily do for ourselves. He carried in his pocket a small book containing needles, thread, and buttons, and on an emergency was always ready to put in a stitch. A curious habit he had of mending his stockings, which I suppose he acquired when a working mason. He would not permit his housekeeper to touch them, but after his work at night, about nine or half past, he would go up stairs, and take down a lot, and sit mending them with great apparent delight in his own room till bed-time. I have frequently gone in to him with some message, and found him occupied with this work."

*[10] "The British Fisheries Society," adds Mr. Rickman, "did not suffer themselves to be entirely outdone in liberality, and shortly before his death they pressed upon Mr. Telford a very handsome gift of plate, which, being inscribed with expressions of their thankfulness and gratitude towards him, he could not possibly refuse to accept."--'Life of Telford,' p. 283.

*[11] Weale's 'Theory. Practice, and Architecture of Bridges,' vol.i.: 'Essay on Foundations of Bridges,' by T. Hughes, C.E., p. 33.

*[12] Letter to Mr. William Little, Langholm, 24th January, 1815.

*[13] Telford thought so little about money, that he did not even know the amount he died possessed of. It turned out that instead of 16,600L. it was about 30,000L.; so that his legatees had their bequests nearly doubled. For many years he had abstained from drawing the dividends on the shares which he held in the canals and other public companies in which he was concerned. At the money panic of 1825, it was found that he had a considerable sum lying in the hands of his London bankers at little or no interest, and it was only on the urgent recommendation of his friend, Sir P. Malcolm, that he invested it in government securities, then very low.

*[14] 'Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey,' vol. iv., p. 391. We may here mention that the last article which Southey wrote for the 'Quarterly' was his review of the ' Life of Telford.'


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