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the coal had been excavated. At a little distance opposite to the path
by which we entered was a continuation of the same narrow hole which
had led us to the waste in which we now stood. From this opening issued
the powerful stream of air which seemed to pass in a direct course from
one opening to the other.

On our right hand the large chamber we had entered appeared to spread
to a very considerable distance, its termination being lost in
darkness. The floor was covered with fragments which had fallen from
the roof; so that, besides the risk from explosion, there was also a
minor one arising from the possible fall of some huge mass of slate
from the roof of the excavation beneath which we stood: an accident
which I had already witnessed in the waste of another coal-mine. As we
advanced over this flaky flooring it was evident that we were making
a considerable ascent. We, in fact, now occupied a vast cavern, which
had been originally formed by the extraction of the coal, and then
partially filled up by the falling in from time to time of portions of
the slaty roof.


As we advanced cautiously with our Davy-lamps beyond {227} the current
of air which had hitherto accompanied us, it was evident that a change
had taken place in their light: for the flames became much enlarged.
Professor Moll and myself mounted a huge heap of these fragments,
and thus came into contact with air highly charged with carburetted
hydrogen. At this point there was a very sensible difference in the
atmosphere, even by a change of three feet in the elevation of the lamp.

Holding up the lamp at the level of my head, I could not see the
wick of the lamp, but a general flame seemed to fill the inside of
its wire-covering. On lowering it to the height of my knee, the wick
resumed its large nebulous appearance.

My companion, Professor Moll, was very much delighted with this
experiment. He told me he had often at his lectures explained these
effects to his pupils, but that this was the first exhibition of them
he had ever witnessed in their natural home.

Although well acquainted with the miniature explosions of the
experimentalist, I found it very difficult to realize in my own
mind the effects which might result from an explosion under the
circumstances in which we were then placed. I inquired of the manager,
who stood by my side, what would probably be the effect, if an
explosion were to take place? Pointing to the vast heap of shale from
which I had just descended, he said the whole of that would be blown
through the narrow channel by which we entered, and every door we had
passed through would be blown down.

We now retraced our steps, and crawling back through the narrow
passage, rejoined our carriage, and were rapidly conveyed to the light
of day.




Visit to Bradford — Clubs — Co-operative Shops — The Author of the
“Economy of Manufactures” welcomed by the Workmen — Visit to the
Temple of Eolus — The Philosopher moralises — Commiserates the
unsuccessful Statesman — Points to the Poet a Theme for his Verse —
Immortalises both.

During one of my visits to Leeds, combinations and trades-unions were
very prevalent. A medical friend of mine, who was going to Bradford
on a professional visit, very kindly offered to take me over in his
carriage and bring me back again in the evening. He had in that town a
friend engaged in the manufactories of the place, to whom he proposed
to introduce me, and who would willingly give me every assistance.
Unfortunately, on our arrival we found that this gentleman was absent
on a tour.

My medical friend was much vexed; but I assured him that I was never at
a loss in a manufacturing town, and we agreed to meet at our hotel for
dinner. I then went into the town to pick up what information I might
be able to meet with.


Passing a small manufactory, I think it was of door-mats, I inquired
whether a stranger might be permitted to see it. The answer being in
the affirmative, one of the men accompanied me round the works. Of
course I asked him many questions which he answered as far as he could;
but several of them {229} puzzled him, and he very good-humouredly
tried to supply the information I wanted by asking several of his
fellow-workmen. One question about which I was anxious to be informed,
puzzled them all. At last one of the men to whom he applied said, “Why
don’t you go and ask Sam Brown?” My guide immediately went in search of
his learned friend, who gave me full information on the subjects of my

Much pleased by the intelligence and acuteness of this man, I thought
it possible he might have read the “Economy of Manufactures.” On
mentioning that work, I found he was well acquainted with it, and he
asked my opinion of its merits. I told him that, having myself written
the book, I was not an impartial judge. On hearing that I was its
author, his delight was unbounded; he held out his brawny hand, which I
cordially grasped. The most gratifying remark to me, however, amongst
the many things in it to which he referred with approbation, was the
expression he applied to it as a whole. “Sir,” said my new friend,
“that book made me think.” To make a man think for himself is doing him
far higher service than giving him much instruction.

I now told my new friend that I had studied a little the effects
of combinations, and also the results of co-operative shops, and
that I was very anxious to add to my stock of information upon both
subjects, but particularly on the latter. Knowing that there existed
a co-operative shop in Bradford, I asked whether it would be possible
to see it and make some inquiries as to its state and prospects. He
said if he could get permission for half an hour’s absence he would
accompany me to it, and give me whatever information I wished as to its


Mr. Brown accordingly accompanied me to the {230} co-operative shop,
where the information required was most readily given.

As we were returning, my companion exclaimed, “Oh, how lucky! there is
——, the secretary of all our clubs. He is the man to tell you all about
them.” We accordingly crossed over to the other side: the secretary,
as soon as he heard my name, held out his hand and greeted me with a
hearty grasp.

Having told him the objects of my inquiry, he expressed great anxiety
to give me the fullest information. He proposed to take me with him
in the course of the evening to all the clubs in Bradford, in each of
which he promised me that I should receive a most cordial welcome.

He offered to show me all their rules, with the exception of certain
ones which he assured me had no connection whatever with the objects of
my inquiries, and which the laws of the respective clubs required to
be kept secret. I think it right to mention this fact; but I am bound
also to add that I have a strong conviction of the truth and sincerity
of my informant. I believe that the one or two rules which I understood
could not be communicated to a stranger, were merely secret modes of
recognition amongst the members of the different societies by which
fellow-members of the same societies might recognize each other in
distant places.

However, my limited time was now drawing to a close. It was impossible
to remain at Bradford that night, and my previous arrangements called
me in two days to a distant part of the country. I parted with regret
from these friendly workmen, and joining my companion at the hotel,
after a hasty dinner we were soon on our way back to Leeds.

Our conversation turned upon the large ironworks we should pass on our
return, which indeed were clearly {231} indicated by the columns of
fire in front of us—tall chimneys illumining the darkness of the night.

I was told by my friend that in one of the ironworks which we should
pass, there was a large tunnel through a rock which had originally been
intended for a canal: but that it was now used as an air-chamber, to
equalize the supply of the blast furnaces. Also that an engine of a
hundred horse-power continually blew air into this stony chamber.

I inquired whether it would be possible to get admission into this
Temple of Æolus. As my friend, fortunately for me, was acquainted with
the proprietors, this was not difficult. Our carriage drove up to the
manager’s house, and my wish was immediately gratified.


A lantern was provided, a small iron door at the end of the cavern
was opened, and armed like Diogenes, I entered upon _my_ search after
truth. I soon ascertained that there was very little current, except
close to the tuyeres which supplied the several furnaces, and also at
the aperture through which tons of air were driven without cessation by
the untiring fiery horse.

I tried to think seriously; and reflecting on Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abed-nego, I speculated whether their furnace might have been hotter
than the one before me. I was within a foot or two of a white heat, but
I had no thermometer with me, and if I had had one, its graduations
might not have been upon the same scale as theirs—so I gave up the

The intensity of that fire was peculiarly impressive. It recalled
the past, disturbed the present, and suggested the future. The
contemplation of the fiery abyss, which had recalled the history
of those ancient Hebrews, naturally turned my attention to the
wonderful powers of endurance {232} manifested by one of their modern
representatives. Candour obliges me to admit that my speculations on
the future were not entirely devoid of anxiety, though I trust they
were orthodox, for whilst I admired the humanity of Origen, I was
shocked by the heresy of Maurice.

I now began to moralize.


Blown upon by a hundred horse-power, I sympathised with Disraeli
refrigerated by his _friends_. Turning from that painful contemplation,
I was calmed by the freshness of the breeze. The action of the pumps,
the _cool_ness of the place and of the time, for it was _evening_,
recalled to my recollection M....... M.....; so I hoped, for the sake
of instruction, that he would in his own adamantine verses snatch
if possible from oblivion the moral anatomy of that unsuccessful
statesman. Yet, lest even the poet himself should be forgotten, I
resolved to give each of them his last chance of celebrity preserved in
the modest amber of my own simple prose.

Emerging from my reverie, I made the preconcerted signal; the iron door
was opened, and we were again on our road to Leeds.




Interview with Vidocq — Remarkable Power of altering his Height — A
Bungler in picking Locks — Mr. Hobbs’s Lock and the Duke of Wellington
— Strong belief that certain Ciphers are inscrutable — Davies
Gilbert’s Cipher — The Author’s Cipher both deciphered — Classified
Dictionaries of the English Language — Anagrams — Squaring Words —
Bishop not easily squared — Lesser Dignitaries easier to work upon.

These two subjects are in truth much more nearly allied than might
appear upon a superficial view of them. They are in fact closely
connected with each other as small branches of the same vast subject of

Several years ago, the celebrated thief-taker, Vidocq, paid a short
visit to London. I had an interview of some duration with this
celebrity, who obligingly conveyed to me much information, which,
though highly interesting, was not of a nature to become personally
useful to me.

He possessed a very remarkable power, which he was so good as to
exhibit to me. It consisted in altering his height to about an inch and
a half less than his ordinary height. He threw over his shoulders a
cloak, in which he walked round the room. It did not touch the floor in
any part, and was, I should say, about an inch and a half above it. He
then altered his height and took the same walk. The cloak then touched
the floor and lay upon it in some part or other during the whole {234}
walk. He then stood still and altered his height alternately, several
times to about the same amount.

I inquired whether the altered height, if sustained for several hours,
produced fatigue. He replied that it did not, and that he had often
used it during a whole day without any additional fatigue. He remarked
that he had found this gift very useful as a disguise. I asked whether
any medical man had examined the question; but it did not appear that
any satisfactory explanation had been arrived at.


I now entered upon a favourite subject of my own—the art of picking
locks—but, to my great disappointment, I found him not at all strong
upon that question. I had myself bestowed some attention upon it,
and had written a paper, ‘On the Art of Opening all Locks,’ at the
conclusion of which I had proposed a plan of partially defeating my own
method. My paper on that subject is not yet published.

Several years after Vidocq’s appearance in London, the Exhibition of
1851 occurred. On one of my earliest visits, I observed a very curious
lock of large dimensions with its internal mechanism fully exposed to
view. I found, on inquiry, that it belonged to the American department.
Having discovered the exhibitor, I asked for an explanation of the
lock. I listened with great interest to a very profound disquisition
upon locks and the means of picking them, conveyed to me with the most
unaffected simplicity.

I felt that the maker of that lock surpassed me in knowledge of the
subject almost as much as I had thought I excelled Vidocq. Having
mentioned it to the late Duke of Wellington, he proposed that we
should pay a visit to the lock the next time I accompanied him to the
Exhibition. We did so a few days after, when the Duke was equally
pleased with the lock and its inventor. Mr. Hobbs, the {235} gentleman
of whom I am speaking, and whose locks have now become so celebrated,
was good enough to explain to me from time to time many difficult
questions in the science of constructing and of picking locks. He
informed me that he had devised a system for defeating all these
methods of picking locks, for which he proposed taking out a patent.
I was, however, much gratified when I found that it was precisely the
plan I had previously described in my own unpublished pamphlet.


Deciphering is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating of arts, and
I fear I have wasted upon it more time than it deserves. I practised
it in its simplest form when I was at school. The bigger boys made
ciphers, but if I got hold of a few words, I usually found out the key.
The consequence of this ingenuity was occasionally painful: the owners
of the detected ciphers sometimes thrashed me, though the fault really
lay in their own stupidity.

There is a kind of maxim amongst the craft of decipherers (similar to
one amongst the locksmiths), that every cipher can be deciphered.


I am myself inclined to think that deciphering is an affair of time,
ingenuity, and patience; and that very few ciphers are worth the
trouble of unravelling them.

One of the most singular characteristics of the art of deciphering
is the strong conviction possessed by every person, even moderately
acquainted with it, that he is able to construct a cipher which nobody
else can decipher. I have also observed that the cleverer the person,
the more intimate is his conviction. In my earliest study of the
subject I shared in this belief, and maintained it for many years.


In a conversation on that subject which I had with the late Mr. Davies
Gilbert, President of the Royal Society, each maintained that he
possessed a cipher which was absolutely inscrutable. On comparison,
it appeared that we had both imagined the same law, and we were thus
confirmed in our conviction of the security of our cipher.

Many years after, the late Dr. Fitton, having asked my opinion of
the possibility of making an inscrutable cipher, I mentioned the
conversation I had had with Davies Gilbert, and explained the law of
the cipher, which we both thought would baffle the greatest adept
in that science. Dr. Fitton fully agreed in my view of the subject;
but even whilst I was explaining the law, an indistinct glimpse of
defeating it presented itself vaguely to my imagination. Having
mentioned my newly-conceived doubt, it was entirely rejected by my
friend. I then proposed that Dr. Fitton should write a few sentences in
a cipher constructed according to this law, and that I should make some
attempts to unravel it. I offered to give a few hours to the subject;
and if I could see my way to a solution, to continue my researches; but
if not on the road to success, to tell him I had given up the task.

Late in the evening of that day I commenced a preparatory inquiry into
the means of unravelling this new cipher, and I soon arrived at a
tolerable certainty that I should succeed. The next night, on my return
from a party, I found Dr. Fitton’s cipher on my table. I immediately
commenced my attempt. After some time I found that it would not yield
to my means of treating it; and on further examination I succeeded in
proving that it was not written according to the law agreed upon. At
first my friend was very positive that I was mistaken; and having taken
it to his sister, by whose {237} aid it was composed, he returned and
told me that it _was_ constructed upon the very law I had proposed. I
then assured him that they _must_ have made some mistake, and that my
evidence was so irresistible, that if my life depended upon the result
I should have no hesitation in making my election.

Dr. Fitton again retired to consult his sister; and after the lapse of
a considerable interval of time again returned, and informed me that I
was right—that his sister had inadvertently mistaken the enunciation
of the law. I now remarked that I possessed an absolute demonstration
of the fact I had communicated to him; and added that, having
conjectured the origin of the mistake, I would decipher the cipher with
the erroneous law before he could send me the new cipher to be made
according to the law originally proposed. Before the evening of the
next day both ciphers had been translated.

This cipher was arranged upon the following principle:—Two concentric
circles of cardboard were formed, each divided into twenty-six or more

On the outer were written in regular order the letters of the alphabet.
On the inner circle were written the same twenty-six letters, but in
any irregular manner.

In order to use this cipher, look for the first letter of the word to
be ciphered on the outside circle. Opposite to it, on the inner circle,
will be another letter, which is to be written as the cipher for the

Now turn round the inner circle until the cipher just written is
opposite the letter _a_ on the _outer_ circle. Proceed in the same
manner for the next, and so on for all succeeding letters.

Many varieties of this cipher may be made by inserting {238} other
characters to represent the divisions between words, the various stops,
or even blanks. Although Davies Gilbert, I believe, and myself, both
arrived at it from our own efforts, I have reason to think that it is
of very much older date. I am not sure that it may not be found in the
“Steganographia” of Schott, or even of Trithemius.


One great aid in deciphering is, a complete analysis of the language
in which the cipher is written. For this purpose I took a good English
dictionary, and had it copied out into a series of twenty-four other
dictionaries. They comprised all words of

One letter,
Two letters,
Three letters,
&c. &c.:
Twenty-six letters.

Each dictionary was then carefully examined, and all the modifications
of each word, as, for instance, the plurals of substantives, the
comparatives and superlatives of adjectives, the tenses and participles
of verbs, &c., were carefully indicated. A second edition of these
twenty-six dictionaries was then made, including these new derivatives.

Each of these dictionaries was then examined, and every word which
contained any two or more letters of the same kind was carefully
marked. Thus, against the word _tell_ the numbers 3 and 4 were placed
to indicate that the third and fourth letters are identical. Similarly,
the word _better_ was followed by the numbers 25, 34. Each of these
dictionaries was then re-arranged thus:—In the first or original one
each word was arranged according to the alphabetical order of its
_initial_ letter.

In the next the words were arranged alphabetically {239} according to
the _second_ letter of each word, and so in the other dictionaries on
to the last letter.

Again, each dictionary was divided into several others, according to
the numerical characteristics placed at the end of each word. Many
words appeared repeatedly in several of these subdivisions.

The work is yet unfinished, although the classification already
amounts, I believe, to nearly half a million words.


From some of these, dictionaries were made of those words only which
by transposition of their letters formed anagrams. A few of these are

Opposite. Similarity. Satirical.

vote veto fuel flue odes dose
acre care taps pats bard drab
evil veil tubs buts poem mope
ever veer vast vats poet tope
lips slip note tone trio riot
cask sack cold clod star rats
fowl wolf evil vile wive view
gods dogs arms mars nabs bans
tory tyro rove over tame mate
tars rats lips lisp acts cats

There are some verbal puzzles costing much time to solve which may be
readily detected by these dictionaries. Such, for instance, is the

I tore ten Persian MSS.,

which it is required to form into one word of eighteen letters.

The first process is to put opposite each letter the number of times it
occurs, thus:— {240}

i 2
t 2
o 1
r 2
e 3
n 2
p 1
s 3
a 1
m 1

It contains—
2 triplets.
4 pairs.
4 single letters.

Now, on examining the dictionary of all words of eighteen letters, it
will be observed that they amount to twenty-seven, and that they may be
arranged in six classes:—

7 having five letters of the same kind.
5 having four letters of the same kind.
3 having three triplets.
7 having two triplets.
3 having one triplet.
2 having seven pairs.


Hence it appears that the word sought must be one of those seven having
two triplets, and also that it must have four pairs; this reduces the
question to the two words—

misinterpretations, misrepresentations.

The latter is the one sought, because its triplets are e and s, whilst
those of the former are i and t.

The reader who has leisure may try to find out the word of eighteen
letters formed by the following sentence:—

Art is not in, but Satan.


Another amusing puzzle may be greatly assisted by these {241}
dictionaries. It is called squaring words, and is thus practised:—Let
the given word to be squared be Dean. It is to be written horizontally,
and also vertically, thus:—

D e a n.
e . . .
a . . .
n . . .

And it is required to fill up the blanks with such letters that each
vertical column shall be the same as its corresponding horizontal
column, thus:—

D e a n
e a s e
a s k s
n e s t

The various ranks of the church are easily squared; but it is stated, I
know not on what authority, that no one has yet succeeded in squaring
the word bishop.

Having obtained one squared word, as in the case of Dean, it will be
observed that any of the letters in the two diagonals, d, a, k, t,—n,
s, s, n, may be changed into any other letter which will make an
English word.

Thus Dean may be changed into such words as

dear peas weak beam
fear seas lead seal
deaf bear real team

In fact there are upwards of sixty substitutes: possibly some of these
might render the two diagonals, d, a, k, t, and n, s, s, n, also

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 17 of 36)