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I must here request the reader to go back in his memory to the state
of our knowledge in 1840, when electricity and other subjects, now of
every-day application, were just commencing their then eccentric but
now regulated course.


The King put the very question I had wished. Carefully observing his
countenance, I felt that I was advancing in a tract in which he was
interested. At each pause the proper question was suggested, and at
last I pointed out the probability that, by means of the electric
telegraphs, his Majesty’s fleet might receive warning of coming storms.
This led to the new theory of storms, about which the king was very
curious. By degrees I endeavoured to make it clear. I cited, as an
illustration, a storm which had occurred but a short time before I left
England. The damage done by it at Liverpool was very great, and at
Glasgow immense. On one large property in the west coast of Scotland
thirty thousand timber-trees had been thrown down.

I then explained that by subsequent inquiries it had been found that
this storm arose from the overlapping of two circular whirlwinds,
one of them coming up from the Atlantic bodily at the rate of twenty
miles an hour, the other passing at the rate of twelve miles an hour,
in a north-westerly direction, to Glasgow, where they coalesced, and
destroyed property to the value of above half a million sterling. I
added that if there had been electric communication between Genoa and
a few other places the people of Glasgow might have had information of
one of those storms twenty-four hours previously to its {302} arrival,
and could then have taken effective measures for the security of much
of their shipping.


During this conversation I had felt rather uneasy at occupying the
king’s time so long when several of his own ministers were waiting in
his ante-room for an audience, perhaps upon important business. Urged
by this truly conscientious motive, I committed a _gaucherie_ of the
deepest water—I half rose from my stool to take leave of his Majesty.
The King, as well he might, lifted up both his hands and then expressed
the greatest interest in the continuance of the subject.

After a conversation of about five-and-twenty minutes the King rose,
and, walking with me to the door, I made my bow. The King then held out
his hand.

Here might have arisen a puzzling question, what I ought to have done;
but previously to the interview I had taken the precaution of inquiring
of one of my Sardinian friends what were the usual forms, and whether
it was customary to kiss hands on being presented to the sovereign. The
answer was in the negative. The ceremony of kissing hands, he informed
me, never took place except when a native subject was appointed to some
very high office.

I therefore immediately perceived that the King had done me the honour
of adopting the salutation of my own country. Under these circumstances
I shook hands as an Englishman does, and then, bowing profoundly,

In the course of the evening of that day, being at the opera, I visited
the box of one of my Italian acquaintances. A great friend of mine,
also an Italian, who had been dining at the palace, came in soon
after. He said to me, “What an extraordinary person you are! You have
perfectly fascinated our King, who has done nothing but talk of you and
the things you have told him during the whole of dinner-time.” {303}

I admit I felt great satisfaction at this announcement of the complete
success of my daring experiment. It assured me that my unusual
deviation from the routine of a Court was fully justified by the
interest the matter communicated had awakened in the King’s mind.


I had brought with me to Turin several models and various instruments
connected with science and mechanical art, which of course had been
examined by many of my scientific and personal friends. Unfortunately,
on two occasions, when General de Salluce, who was much my senior
in years, called upon me, I happened to be absent from the house.
Knowing how fully his time was occupied by his illustrious pupils, I
much regretted that I had not been at home when he called, and during
one of my visits at the palace I offered to bring with me, on another
occasion, some of the things I thought might be most interesting.

The General could not think of giving me that trouble, and at first
very courteously declined the proposal. But after a moment or two he
said, “On second thoughts, I will accept your kind offer, because I
think it may be useful to my young pupils.”

On the morning proposed I drove up to the palace with some boxes
containing the various apparatus, and was immediately shown into a
large room nearly at the top of the palace. After opening the boxes
and giving the General a glance at the various articles, I remarked
that several of them were interesting to ladies, and that possibly the
Queen, if made acquainted with it, might like to accompany her sons;
in which case it would, perhaps, be more convenient for her Majesty if
they were placed in a lower room of the palace.


The idea appeared a happy one; the General was much {304} pleased at
it, and said he would go immediately and take her Majesty’s pleasure
on the subject. After considerable delay General de Salluce returned,
evidently much disappointed, and said he was commanded by the Queen to
thank me for the attention, and to express her Majesty’s regret that
she was prevented by an engagement from accompanying the young Princes.

When everything was arranged, and the hour appointed had arrived, the
young Princes, accompanied by, I presume, various members of the royal
household, and their Governor, arrived. Altogether there might have
been about a dozen or fourteen persons of both sexes present.

I pointed out the use and structure of most of the instruments. Some
objects belonged to mechanical art, such as patent locks and tools; a
few were related to the Fine Arts.

The whole party seemed much pleased; the young Princes particularly
took a great interest in them, whereat the General was highly
gratified. Before his young pupils retired, I took the General aside
and inquired whether it was consistent with their customs that I
should present to each of his two pupils one of the various (but in
a pecuniary sense trifling) articles which they had examined. I was
glad to find that I might be permitted to leave behind me two little
souvenirs of a most agreeable day.

The whole party, with the exception of General de Salluce, had now
retired. We walked up and down the room together for some time,
conversing upon the success of the meeting. My excellent friend was
justly delighted with the intelligent inquiries made by his pupils.

I thought I now perceived a favourable opportunity of ascertaining the
cause of the Queen’s absence.

After some kind expression towards me, I suddenly stopped, {305} and,
looking inquiringly into his countenance, said, “Now, General, just
before this very agreeable party met you went to invite the Queen, and
you returned and then told me the _official_. Now pray do tell me the


The surprise of the General was certainly great, but, with a most
agreeable smile, he immediately consented.

It appears that its history was thus. The General went to the Queen’s
apartments and asked, through her lord-in-waiting, to be permitted to
see her Majesty. This request was immediately granted. The General then
informed the Queen that amongst the things her sons were going to see
were several which might, perhaps, interest her Majesty. The Queen said
she would accompany her sons, and then directed her own lord-in-waiting
to go and ask the King’s permission.

Accordingly the Queen’s lord-in-waiting went to the King’s apartments,
and found that he was sitting in Council. He proceeded to the ante-room
of the Council-chamber, and there found the King’s lord-in-waiting, to
whom he communicated his mission.

The King’s lord-in-waiting then informed the Queen’s lord-in-waiting
that important news[47] had just arrived, and that a special
council had been called; that of course he was ready to convey the
Queen’s message immediately, but he suggested whether, under these
circumstances, the Queen would wish it.

[47] The Syrian question.

The Queen’s lord-in-waiting now returned to her Majesty for further

Of course the Queen, like a good wife, at once gave up the intention
of accompanying her sons in their interview with the philosopher. I
felt much regret at this disappointment. The Queen of Sardinia was the
sister of the Grand Duke of Tuscany (Leopold II.), from whom I had,
many years before, {306} when under severe affliction from the loss
of a large portion of my family, received the most kind and gratifying


On my road to Turin I had passed a few days at Lyons, in order to
examine the silk manufacture. I was specially anxious to see the loom
in which that admirable specimen of fine art, the portrait of Jacquard,
was woven. I passed many hours in watching its progress.

I possessed one copy, which had been kindly given to me by a friend;
but as I had proposed to visit Florence after the meeting at Turin, I
wished to procure another copy to present to the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

These beautiful productions were not made for sale; but, as a favour, I
was allowed to purchase one of them.

Whilst the General was giving me this illustration of Court etiquette,
it occurred to me that the silken engraving would be an appropriate
offering to a lady.

I therefore again asked my friend whether, consistently with the usages
of the country, I might be permitted to offer the engraving to the

The sudden change of his countenance from gay to grave was very
remarkable. I feared I had proposed something of the most unusual kind.
The General then slowly replied, “I will take the King’s pleasure on
the subject.”

Two days after the General informed me that the King would give me an
audience the next day, in order that I might ask permission to present
the woven engraving to the Queen.

Accordingly, at the appointed hour, I went to the palace with the large
cartoon-case containing the portrait of Jacquard.[48] On being admitted
into the presence of the King, I placed the case upon a sofa, and,
opening it carefully, {307} unfolded the woven portrait from a crowd
of sheets of silver paper of the most ethereal lightness. I then placed
it in his Majesty’s hands. The King examined it minutely on both sides,
inquired about its structure, and appeared much pleased at the sight.

[48] The dimensions were 2 ft. 8 in. by 2 ft. 2 in.


I now went over to replace the engraving in its travelling-carriage.
The instant it approached its paper case a multitude of sheets of
silver paper were disturbed in their snug repose, and forthwith flew up
into the air. I made many ineffectual efforts to catch these runaways.
The King most condescendingly came to my assistance, took the portrait
out of my hands, and endeavoured himself to replace it in its nest,
whilst I was attempting to catch the flying covey.

But these volatile papers had no proper respect even for royalty. The
quires of silver paper which had remained in the case now came out in
all directions, whether to do honour to the King by rising to receive
him, or to recall their flighty sisters to their deserted couch I know
not; but somehow or other both the King and myself were on the floor
upon our knees, having secured some few of the fallen angels, whilst a
cloud of others, still on the wing, continually eluded our grasp.

At last I gave up the idea of grabbing at the flying sheets, and
confined my attention to seizing on the fallen ones. While still on
my knees, I suddenly felt an obstacle presented to my right foot.
On looking round I perceived that the heel of royalty had come into
contact with the toe of philosophy.

A comic yet kindly smile beamed upon the countenance of the King,
whilst an irrepressible but not irreverent one, lightened up my own.

The whole army of butterflies being at last captured, and {308} the
engraving replaced, the King entered into a conversation with me upon
various subjects.


The processes of wine-making then became the subject of conversation.
I believe I may have observed incidentally in reply to some question,
that my information was only derived from books, as I had not had an
opportunity of seeing any of its processes. About a week after this,
one of the officers of the household called upon me, and told me that
the vintage of Raconigi, one of the King’s beautiful domains, at about
a dozen miles from Turin, would commence in the following week; that
he was commanded by his Majesty, in case I should wish to examine the
processes, to inform me of the circumstance, and to accompany me for
the purpose of explaining them—a mission, he was so kind as to add,
which would personally be highly gratifying to himself.

I willingly accepted this most agreeable proposition, and the day was
fixed upon. At an early hour my friend was at my door in one of the
royal carriages. The weather was magnificent, and we drove through a
beautiful country.

On arriving at the vineyard we found several of the processes in full
operation. Each in succession was explained; and after spending a
most instructive morning, we found an excellent dinner prepared for
us at the palace, where I had the pleasure of meeting General ——, who
presided, and who had spent several years in England.

On our return in the evening I observed a dragoon apparently
accompanying the carriage. At first I took it for granted that his
road happened to be the same as ours; but after a mile or two had been
passed over, seeing him still close to us, I inquired of my companion
if he knew whither the soldier was going. It then appeared that he had
been sent by the General as a complimentary escort. {309}

However gratified I felt by this attention, I still was quite
uncomfortable at the idea of having a man galloping after our carriage
for ten miles. I therefore appealed to my friend to suspend this
unnecessary loss of _vis viva_. With some reluctance the dragoon was
exempted from further attendance upon the philosopher.

Shortly before I left Turin, one of my Italian friends remarked, with
evident feelings of pride and satisfaction, upon the attentions I had
received from his sovereign. “The King, he observed, has done three
things for you, which are very unusual—

“He has shaken hands with you.

“He has asked you to sit down at an audience.

“He has permitted you to make a present to the Queen. This last,” he
added, “is the rarest of all.”

* * * * *


Two days before my departure from Turin, I had an audience, to take
leave of his Majesty. The King inquired in what direction I intended
to travel homeward. I mentioned my intention of taking the mail to
Geneva, because it traversed a most remarkable suspension-bridge over a
deep ravine. The span of this bridge, which is named, after the king,
Pont Charles Albert, is six hundred French feet, and the depth of the
chasm over which it is suspended is also six hundred French feet. The
King immediately opened a drawer, and, taking out a small bronze medal,
struck to celebrate the opening of the bridge, presented it to me.

I now took the opportunity of expressing to the King my gratitude for
the many and kind attentions I had received from his subjects, and more
especially for the honour he had himself recently done me by sending
one of his ministers officially to convey to me his Majesty’s high
approbation of my conduct. {310} The King then entered upon another
course of inquiry, more immediately connected with his government.
I had on several occasions, when a favourable opportunity presented
itself, drawn the King’s attention to the doctrine of free trade—a
subject on which he evidently felt a great desire to be informed. The
questions put to me, though necessary for assisting the King to arrive
at right conclusions, were of such a nature that I considered them
confidential, and therefore forbear to relate them.

Two days after I started by the mail for Geneva. I shared the Coupé
of the Malle Poste with the courier, a very intelligent officer. On
mentioning my wish to see the celebrated bridge, he informed me that
he was already aware of my wishes, and that he had received orders
to detain the mail a quarter of an hour, that I might have a good
opportunity of seeing it.


The scene which presented itself on my approach to the Pont Charles
Albert was singularly grand. We had been driving for some time along
a road skirting the edge of an immense chasm, six hundred and forty
English feet in depth. The opposite side was hid from our view by
a mist which hung over it. At the next bend in the road a portion
of the bridge suddenly became visible to us. It appeared to spring
from a massive pier on which the chains on our side of the ravine
rested. The bridge itself was nearly level, and was visible for about
three-quarters only of its length as it traversed the valley far
beneath it. The termination of the ascending portion of the chains on
the further pier, and that part of the bridge itself, were completely
concealed by the mist. It really seemed like a bridge springing from
a lofty cliff spanning the sea beneath and suspended on the distant
clouds. When we had descended from the mail at the {311} commencement,
we had directed the postilions to drive slowly across the bridge, then
about a third of a mile distant from us.


We were singularly favoured by circumstances. We saw the carriage which
had just left us apparently crossing the bridge, then penetrating into
the clouds, and finally becoming entirely lost to our view. At the same
time the dissolving mist in our own immediate neighbourhood began to
allow us to perceive the depth of the valley beneath, and at last even
the little wandering brook, which looked like a thread of silver at its

The sun now burst out from behind a range of clouds, which had obscured
it. Its warm rays speedily dissipated the mist, illuminated the dark
gulf at our own side, and discovered to us the mail on terra firma on
the opposite side of the chasm waiting to convey us to our destination.

On our arrival at Annecy, my thoughtful companion informed me that
the mail would wait five-and-forty minutes. He suggested, as I was
not in good health, that I should immediately on my arrival get into
bed, whilst he would order tea, or supper, or any refreshment I might
prefer, and that he would be answerable for calling me at the proper
time to enable me to get comfortably whatever I might require, and be
ready to start again with the mail.

* * * * *

I have frequently attempted to assign in my own mind the reasons of the
singularly favourable reception I met with from the King of Sardinia.
The reputation arising from the Analytical Engine could scarcely have
produced that effect. The position of a sovereign is a very exceptional
one. He is surrounded by persons each of whom has always one or more
objects to gain. It is scarcely within the limits of possibility {312}
that he can have a real friend, or if he have that rarest commodity,
that he can know the fact.


A certain amount of distrust must therefore almost always exist in his
mind. But this habitual distrust applies less to foreigners than to his
own subjects. The comet which passes through the thick atmosphere of
a Court may be temporarily disturbed in its path though it may never
revisit it again.

Perhaps the first element of my success was, that having been the
victim of shyness in early life, I could sympathise with those who
still suffered under that painful complaint.

Another reason may have been, that I never stated more than I really
knew. This is, I believe, a very unusual practice in Courts of _every_
kind; and when it happens to be obviously sincere, it commands great

There might be yet another reason:—it was well known that I had nothing
to ask for—to expect—or to desire.




Opening of Manchester and Liverpool Railway — Death of Mr. Huskisson
— Plate-glass Manufactory — Mode of separating Engine from Train —
Broad-gauge Question — Experimental Carriage — Measure the Force of
Traction, the Vertical, Lateral, and End Shake of Carriage, also its
Velocity by Chronometer — Fortunate Escape from meeting on the same
Line Brunel on another Engine — Sailed across the Hanwell Viaduct in
a Waggon without Steam — Meeting of British Association at Newcastle
— George Stephenson — Dr. Lardner — Suggestions for greater Safety on
Railroads — George Stephenson’s Opinion of the Gauges — Railways at
National Exhibitions.

At the commencement of the railway system I naturally took a great
interest in the subject, from its bearings upon mechanism as well as
upon political economy.

I accompanied Mr. Woolryche Whitmore, the member for Bridgenorth, to
Liverpool, at the opening of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. The
morning previous to the opening, we met Mr. Huskisson at the Exchange,
and my friend introduced me to him. The next day the numerous trains
started with their heavy load of travellers. All went on pleasantly
until we reached Parkside, near Newton. During the time the engines
which drew us were taking in their water and their fuel, many of the
passengers got out and recognized their friends in other trains.

At a certain signal all resumed their seats; but we had {314} not
proceeded a mile before the whole of our trains came to a stand-still
without any ostensible cause. After some time spent in various
conjectures, a single engine almost flew past us on the other line of
rail, drawing with it the ornamental car which the Duke of Wellington
and other officials had so recently occupied. Instead of its former
numerous company it appeared to convey only two, or at most three,
persons; but the rapidity of its flight prevented any close observation
of the passengers.


A certain amount of alarm now began to pervade the trains, and various
conjectures were afloat of some serious accident. After a while Mr.
Whitmore and myself got out of our carriage and hastened back towards
the halting place. At a little distance before us, in the middle of
the railway, stood the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, and the
Boroughreeve of Manchester, discussing the course to be pursued in
consequence of the dreadful accident which had befallen Mr. Huskisson,
whom I had seen but a few minutes before standing at the door of the
carriage conversing with the Duke of Wellington. The Duke was anxious
that the whole party should return to Liverpool; but the chief officer
of Manchester pressed upon them the necessity of continuing the
journey, stating that if it were given up he could not be answerable
for the safety of the town.

It was at last mournfully resolved to continue our course to
Manchester, where a luncheon had been prepared for us; but to give up
all the ceremonial, and to return as soon as we could to Liverpool.

For several miles before we reached our destination the sides of
the railroad were crowded by a highly-excited populace shouting and
yelling. I feared each moment that some still greater sacrifice of life
might occur from the people {315} madly attempting to stop by their
feeble arms the momentum of our enormous trains.


Having rapidly taken what refreshment was necessary, we waited with
anxiety for our trains; but hour after hour passed away before they
were able to start. The cause of this delay arose thus. The Duke of
Wellington was the guest of the Earl of Wilton, the nearest station to
whose residence was almost half way between Manchester and Liverpool.
A train therefore was ordered to convey the party to Heaton House.
Unfortunately, our engines had necessarily gone a considerable distance

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 22 of 36)