MOTIVES TO THE WALK - THE IRON HORSE AND HIS RIDER - THE LOSSES AND GAINS BY SPEED - THE RAILWAY TRACK AND TURNPIKE ROAD: THEIR SCENERIES COMPARED.
One of my motives for making this tour was to look at the country towns and villages on the way in the face and eyes; to enter them by the front door, and to see them as they were made to be seen first, as far as man's mind and hand intended and wrought. Railway travelling, as yet, takes everything at a disadvantage; it does not front on nature, or art, or the common conditions and industries of men in town or country. If it does not actually of itself turn, it presents everything the wrong side outward. In cities, it reveals the ragged and smutty companionship of tumble-down out-houses, and mysteries of cellar and back-kitchen life which were never intended for other eyes than those that grope in them by day or night. How unnatural, and, more, almost profane and inhuman, is the fiery locomotion of the Iron Horse through these densely-peopled towns! now the screech, the roar, and the darkness of cavernous passages under paved streets, church vaults, and an acre or two of three-story brick houses, with the feeling of a world of breathing, bustling humanity incumbent upon you; - now the dash and flash out into the light, and the higgledy-piggledy glimpses of the next five minutes. In a moment you are above thickly-thronged streets, and the houses on either side, looking down into the black throats of smoky chimneys; into the garret lairs of poverty, sickness, and sin; down lower upon squads of children trying to play in back-yards eight feet square. It is all wrong, except in the single quality of speed. You enter the town as you would a farmer's house, if you first passed through the pig-stye into the kitchen. Every respectable house in the city turns its back upon you; and often a very brick and dirty back too, though it may show an elegant front of Bath or Portland stone to the street it faces. All the respectable streets run over or under you with an audible shudder of disgust or dread. None but a shabby lane of low shops for the sale of junk, beer, onions, shrimps, and cabbages, will run a third of a mile by your side for the sake of your company. The wickedest boys in the town hoot at you, with most ignominious and satiric antics, as you pass; and if they do not shie stones in upon you, or dead cats, it is more from fear of the beadle or the constable than out of respect for your business or pleasure.
Indeed, every town and village, great or small, which you pass through or near on the railway, looks as if you came fifty years before you were expected. It says, in all the legible expressions of its countenance, "Lack-a-day! - if here isn't that creature come already, and looking in at my back door before I had time to turn around, or put anything in shape!" The Iron Horse himself gets no sympathy nor humane admiration. He stands grim and wrathy, when reined up for two minutes and forty-five seconds at a station. No venturesome boys pat him on the flanks, or look kindly into his eyes, or say a pleasant word to him, or even wonder if he is tired, or thirsty, or hungry. None of the ostlers of the greasy stables, in which the locomotives are housed, ever call him Dobbin, or Old Jack, or Jenny, or say, "Well done, old fellow!" when they unhitch him from the train at midnight, after a journey of a hundred leagues. His driver is a real man of flesh and blood; with wife and children whom he loves. He goes on Sunday to church, and, maybe, sings the psalms of David, and listens devoutly to the sermon, and says prayers at home, and the few who know him speak well of him, as a good and proper man in his way. But, spurred and mounted upon the saddle of the great iron hexiped, nearly all the passengers regard him as a part of the beast. No one speaks to him, or thinks of him on the journey. He may pull up at fifty stations, and not a soul among the Firsts, Seconds, or even Thirds, will offer him a glass of beer, or pipe-full of tobacco, or give him a sixpence at the end of the ride for extra speed or care. His face is grimy, and greasy, and black. All his motions are ambiguous and awkward to the casual observer. He has none of the sedate and conscious dignity of his predecessor on the old stage-coach box. He handles no whip, like him, with easy grace. Indeed, in putting up his great beast to its best speed, he "hides his whip in the manger," according to a proverb older than steam power. He wears no gloves in the coldest weather; not always a coat, and never a decent one, at his work. He blows no cheery music out of a brass bugle as he approaches a town, but pricks the loins of the fiery beast, and makes him scream with a sound between a human whistle and an alligator's croak. He never pulls up abreast of the station-house door, in the fashion of the old coach driver, to show off himself and his leaders, but runs on several rods ahead of his passengers and spectators, as if to be clear of them and their comments, good or bad. At the end of the journey, be it at midnight or day-break, not a man nor a woman he has driven safely at the rate of forty miles an hour thinks or cares what becomes of him, or separates him in thought from the great iron monster he mounts. Not the smock-frocked man, getting out of the forwardmost Third, with his stick and bundle, thinks of him, or stops a moment to see him back out and turn into the stable.