Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Last week (September 15, 1860)

LAST WEEK.


THE HEGIRA OF THE BOURBONS.

Young Francis II. is gone at last. When kings fly their first step is decisive. You cannot dally with a crown—clutch the golden prize one minute, and let it fall from your trembling fingers the next. This last of the Neapolitan Bourbons, whilst we are writing, is at Gaeta: but it is most probable when this number of Once a Week is published, that he will even have abandoned that stronghold, and be on his way to a Spanish port, or to the Court of Francis Joseph, the ex officio Protector of small Italian royalties. As soon as Garibaldi is fixed at Naples, whether he administers the country for a time as Dictator, or whether he hands it over to the Sardinian King, really matters not—the Neapolitan army and navy will adhere to the buon stato, or new order of things. It is not likely that the Royal Runaway will suffer himself to be caught like a rat in a trap, or as Gil Blas was caught in the den of the famous Captain Rolando. Gaeta once invested by sea and by land, the situation of any one member of the garrison, from the King to a gunner-boy, would be exceedingly precarious. Not that these are times when fugitive Sovereigns have occasion to fear for their lives, but no doubt Francis II., late of the Two Sicilies, now of Gaeta, would rather be spared the humiliation of a contemptuous dismissal by his enemies. He has given up his kingdom without striking one good stroke in its defence. Courage failed him not at the moment when he directed that the fair city of Palermo should be laid in ashes, even although the operation was not called for on military grounds. He had courage enough when the Queen Mother and the camarilla urged him to continue the cruel system of government which his father had carried out for some thirty years. He had courage enough to stop his ears to the groans and cries of the wretched political prisoners who were incarcerated in his dungeons. But he had no courage when summoned to take the field, and meet the enemy of his name, and the people whom he and his father and grandfather had oppressed. As Macaulay has written—

He—he turns—he flies—
Shame on those cruel eyes,
That bore to look on torture,
But dare not look on war.

The best thing now for Italy, and for Europe, is that this last of the Neapolitan Bourbons should be allowed to take his way quietly to the court of his Spanish cousin, who no doubt will give him a hiding-place. He is still one of the richest men in Europe.

LOUIS NAPOLEON’S ALPENSTOCK.

What a lamentable story was that one of those poor English travellers who fell over a precipice the other day as they were crossing from the Montanvert to Cormayeur! Europe annually sends forth her thousands of travellers to the Swiss mountains, and all things considered it is a wonder that so few accidents occur. Every idle voluptuary of the European capitals—every middle-aged gentleman whose figure owns the affronts of time, and betrays the effects of good living, from the moment he reaches Lucerne or Geneva conceives himself to be instantly converted into a Swiss mountaineer. Now the purchase of Keller’s map, of a little bag like a lady’s reticule, to be slung round the shoulder, and of a long pole tipped with an elegant little chamois horn, can be easily effected; but these possessions, however valuable, will scarcely convert their fortunate owner into a mountaineer. They will not give him the hardness of limb, the enduring breath, the endurance of fatigue so necessary for the man who would grapple with the difficulties of Swiss mountains and passes as one to the manner born. Faint and weary, at the end of a very moderate day’s excursion, you see the way-worn traveller who had left his inn with the rising sun, so light of heart and of foot, that by his side the guides seemed but clumsy and incapable travellers, plodding back, and cursing the hour when he exchanged the amenities of Pall Mall, or the Boulevards, for the stern realities of a stroll amongst the mountains. A man does not become an efficient member of the Alpine Club by a mere act of volition. There are Swiss dreams and Swiss realities—under which head are we to range the aspirations and performances of the latest Swiss travellers, Louis Napoleon and the fair Empress, whose graceful presence half excuses the triumphs of her lord?

Louis Napoleon has regularly commenced operations as a Swiss excursionist. He has bought an alpenstock, for which he has paid as a price the blood of thousands of Frenchmen, and millions of French treasure. It is the custom of Swiss travellers to cause the titles of their achievements to be burnt in upon these mountain-poles as records of their prowess. Upon the alpenstock of Louis Napoleon are now engraved these significant words:

Mont Cenis.
Chamounix.
Chablais.
Faucigny.
Lac de Genève.

What next? It was not for nothing that, with the Empress Eugenie by his side, he went afloat the other day on the Lake of Geneva in that silken-galley which reminds the reader of Cleopatra’s barge. For the name of the Egyptian Queen, read that of the French Empress, and the description may stand:

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burnt on the water; the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd that
The winds were love-sick; with them the oars were silver;
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water, whilst they beat, to follow faster
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person
It beggar’d all description; she did lie
In her pavilion (cloth of gold, of tissue)
O’erpicturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork Nature.
* * * * From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hit the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs.

All that the skill of French machinists and upholsterers could perform had been accomplished, and, on the whole, it is probable that the machinists and upholsterers of Paris in our day are superior to their predecessors of Alexandria, when Mark Antony bartered empire for a kiss. The spectacle on the lake must have been superb;—but if we are to attach credit to the account given by an actual spectator of the scene, who was present at Thonon when Louis Napoleon arrived there full of affability, the description in the play holds good again—

Enthron’d in the markAntony,
Enthron’d in the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to the air.

When the Emperor had alighted at the Hôtel de Ville of that remarkable town, Thonon, it seems that he stepped out, full of condescension, upon a balcony with a roll of paper in his hand, which in all probability contained the speech which he had intended to deliver, but, alas! a crowd of listeners was wanting. The Prefêt, or Sous-Prefêt of Thonon—or whoever the stage-manager might be—had not paraded the mob of attached subjects; and yet one should have thought that loyalty might have been purchased in Switzerland for a consideration. The Conqueror of Magenta and Solferino found himself in the presence of a few spectators, and some little boys and girls,—the sole representatives upon this occasion of the frantic desire for annexation to France. One might have smiled to see the man who has accomplished such great things, softly slip the roll of paper full of Napoleonic ideas into his pocket, and quietly slink back into the Hôtel de Ville. M. le Sous-Prefêt must have passed but an indifferent quarter of an hour, when under question as to the absence of the loyal mob. All this was pitiful in the extreme; but it must be admitted, even by his most determined antagonists, that Louis Napoleon has overtopped ridicule. The morning of the 2nd of December was the answer to the joking upon the Boulogne eagle; and if his life is prolonged, there is much reason to suppose that the French Emperor may find occasion to address a more important crowd in a more notable Swiss town than was the case the other day, when he appeared on the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville at Thonon.

In truth, the apparition of that silken galley upon the blue waters of the Lake of Geneva, was an alarming spectacle enough, not only to the confederated Swiss Cantons, but to Europe. Louis has commenced a fresh game of Rouge et Noir, and has risked no inconsiderable stake upon the event. From the declaration made by the English Premier, in answer to Mr. Kinglake, just before the close of the session, as well as from the paragraph inserted in the speech of the English Queen when Parliament was prorogued, it would seem that this Swiss acquisition has cost him the confidence of English statesmen.

We had already been told by Lord Palmerston, that in consequence of the masterful seizure of these Swiss Cantons, in defiance of the obligations of the public law of Europe, England had been compelled to seek for more trustworthy alliances elsewhere. The conference at Töplitz, and an increased cordiality between the German Sovereigns, has followed. It is now suggested that in presence of a danger, supposed to be imminent, there will shortly be a meeting between the Russian Emperor, the Prince Regent of Prussia, and the Emperor of Austria at Warsaw. We have seen the recent manifestations of loyalty in Belgium to the throne of King Leopold. Before the British Parliament separated, a heavy vote was taken for the defence of our arsenals, and the country is bristling with Volunteers from Land’s End to John-o’-Groat’s House. It is really in consequence of the annexation of Nice, Savoy, and above all of these Swiss Cantons, which give to Louis Napoleon the command over the Lake of Geneva, and practically in the future of the right bank of the Rhine, that 8000 lbs. of flour, 6000 lbs. of veal and ham, 500 lbs. of butter, and 2000 eggs, were used up in making pies for the Volunteers who were reviewed the other day in Knowsley Park. By this single act of autocracy planned and carried out in defiance of the public law, and public opinion of Europe, the French Emperor has destroyed all confidence in his own professions, and in those which are made by his ministers under his sanction. “I make war for an idea,” said he, when he set out upon his Italian campaign of last year, but the idea intended was not the one held forward to the world, but a little boating excursion upon the Lake of Geneva, after certain water-rights had been secured. In some fashion or other, the Napoleonic ideas do not seem to work to the advantage of those who are the subjects of them. Louis Napoleon had taken the Pope under his protection. We know how sorely beset Pio Nono is at the present moment; but it seems that the French Emperor is resolved to despise his calumniators, and continues to protect the Roman pontiff till the end. Here is what Count Persigny said the other day when laying the foundation stone of a church at Roanne. “Ah! gentlemen, whilst I am about to lay the first stone of this church of our Lady of Victories, whose name is such a good augury, pray the Almighty to protect the Holy Father—to preserve him from the dangers which beset him—the most to be dreaded of which are not the attacks of his armed enemies, for the sword of the Eldest Son of the Church, despising his calumniators, continues to protect the august person of the Pontiff—and the venerated throne of the Holy See.” This is a comment upon Louis Napoleon’s own declaration the other day, in which he recommended the Pope to resign his temporal dominions, and give himself up to prayer and meditation within the walls of the Eternal City—as it is called—although the monumental ruins which it contains are sadly suggestive of the instability of human grandeur. Why should the Papacy endure in Rome, when Rome itself is blotted out from the map of the working-day world?

It is impossible to deny that at the present moment there is a general feeling of insecurity throughout Europe, and this insecurity is in itself no small evil, even if it should never ripen into actual warfare. We are all counting the forces of our neighbours, and manufacturing implements of destruction upon the most scientific principles, not exactly for purposes of harmless pyrotechnic display. How is this? It was not so twelve years ago. Again, it has always been said since the great military Powers of the Continent receded from the principles which nominally inspired the Treaties of 1815, that sooner or later we must have a war of ideas, or of nationalities, to use the phrase of the professors in the science of Revolutions made Easy. But at the present moment it is not a war of ideas which we are all looking forward to, as a not very improbable contingency; but a simple, straightforward war of ambition upon the good old principles which moved Louis XIV. to despatch Turenne into the Palatinate, or decided the First Napoleon to send Soult and Marmont into Spain. For the moment, indeed, these projects are wrapped up in the mystic verbiage of the Second Empire. The Sous-Prefêt of Thonon calls Louis Napoleon nothing less than the Apostle of European Emancipation.

Another of his acolytes styles him Aladdin, and tells us that his wonderful lamp is his perfect simplicity of character. Why not dub him Ali Baba at once, and explain to us that the phrase of “L’Empire c’est la paix” has been the “open sesame” by help of which he has marched from conquest to conquest? There is reason enough for anxiety in all this. There is a cloud bigger than a man’s hand upon the horizon. A sound understanding between England and France—one is sick of the term “entente cordiale”—was the surest guarantee for the peace of the world—and this no longer exists. This is a lamentable but a true conclusion, and therefore we cannot rejoice at the accounts we receive of the Imperial progress in Switzerland. Upon this point the Swiss themselves feel alarm, which is natural enough, and are under considerable apprehension that fresh names will soon be added to the list of achievements engraved upon the Alpen staff of this formidable excursionist. Louis Napoleon spent his youth in Switzerland, and in early manhood was an Italian carbonaro. It was in these two countries he must first have felt the impulses of ambition. What tenacity of purpose there is about the man!

THE HELMSHORE TRAGEDY.

It has been said that more persons are killed and injured in London, every year, by accidents resulting from the negligence or misfortune of drivers, than upon the various lines of railway in the kingdom, in consequence of collision, explosion, and the various chances of the iron way. The terrible business which occurred at Helmshore, near Manchester, on Monday, the 3rd of the present month, must have gone far to fetch up the averages against the railroads. Some 2500 pleasure-seekers had come to Manchester for the day, in order to assist at some festivity which was then in hand. They were hard-working artisans, such as we find in the manufacturing districts, and their families. All went well on the journey to Manchester. They had their day’s pleasure; it was to be the last, too, to many of their number. Well on in the night—it was about 11 p.m.—the excursionists flocked back to the station to be reconveyed to their respective homes. There were to be three trains choked full of passengers. One got away, and as it glided to its journey’s end in safety, we may dismiss it from our thoughts. The second train started—there were eighteen carriages full of people, a large proportion of them children. The night was very dark. Twenty minutes afterwards a third and similar train followed. Until the second train reached the Helmshore-station all went smoothly enough. They had glided up the incline which here is very steep. The train had been brought to a stand-still. The guard had just removed the breaks, and this was the death signal to ten human beings—to make no mention of thirty-eight persons who in a few moments were to be severely wounded and mutilated. The coupling between the third and fourth carriages broke. The engine remained with three carriages attached. For the remaining fifteen carriages in the train there was a jerk and a backward rebound, and then the fifteen carriages began to move slowly in the direction of Manchester. At this moment, the third train which had been despatched from Manchester was slowly passing up the incline freighted with hundreds of human beings—mainly children—as in the second train. The night, as we have said, was dark; the incline was steep; the scene of the tragedy, now imminent, was a cutting, and the cutting formed a curve. One train was gliding up, the other was gliding down. There were some twelve hundred persons on whom might the Lord have mercy—for when one minute only removed from death they could scarcely be nearer it than they were in the Helmshore cutting on that night of the 3rd of September—now just passed.

The carriages which had been released as described, moved back slowly enough for about four hundred yards—that is, something under a quarter of a mile—down the incline. The third train was ascending it, and upon the same set of rails, at the rate of something between ten and fifteen miles an hour. Some one at the station had detached the engine of the second train from the carriages, had moved it on another set of rails, and was proceeding back as quickly as he could in the direction of Manchester, so as to give warning to the driver of the third train. But it was too late! The third train was too near, and before the engine of the second train had reached the spot where the two trains were fated to come into collision, the collision had occurred. Then the screams and groans of the sufferers might have been heard. Ten persons were killed upon the spot, and others were lying about in almost every form and variety of suffering to which the human frame can be exposed. The limbs of some were broken; others had been wounded by the fragments and splinters of the shattered carriages; others were lying oppressed with great weights. It is needless to dwell upon this agonising scene—the mischief had been done. Nor is this the first time that such a calamity has occurred.

On the 23rd of August, 1858, a tragedy precisely similar happened between Worcester and Wolverhampton. Two trains full of excursionists were started with an interval of seventeen minutes between them. Then, as at Helmshore, the other day, the first train stopped at a station upon an incline. Then, as at Helmshore, the coupling between two of the carriages in the first train broke. Then eighteen carriages—as at Helmshore, fifteen—began to descend the incline, slowly at first, but gathered velocity as they went. Then, as at Helmshore, in a few minutes there was a collision between the advancing, and the receding trains, and many people lost their lives—many were bruised and mutilated for life, and there was great suffering. All this arose from a defective coupling. If reliance cannot be placed upon iron, and upon the tests which are employed to ascertain if it be still trustworthy, some precaution should be taken at every station, situated upon an incline, to prevent the possibility of the recurrence of any similar accidents. True, they may only occur once in two years; but when the tragedy happens it is so terrible, and sweeping in its operation, that it should be prevented at any cost. Surely the ingenuity which invented railroads can be tasked so as to secure the safety of the passengers who travel upon them.

THE SEA AND THE MARINE ARTS.

The Great Eastern is proved to be a mechanical success, but possibly a commercial failure. With the destruction of the Red Sea Telegraph it may be said that up till the present time the oceanic cables have not proved trustworthy. Finally, we are informed upon very sufficient authority that the French iron-plated ship La Gloire, which has been announced to the world as a practical error, has, in point of fact, upon all material points, surpassed the expectation of her builders. The result of these three great experiments we have yet to learn.

With regard to the Great Eastern, it is now proved beyond all doubt that the ocean can be navigated in these huge ships not only with perfect safety, but in far greater comfort than in vessels of smaller size. In port, or out of port, the Great Eastern has done and withstood all that could be expected from any fabric built by human hands. Her performances in the gale at Holyhead Harbour showed that, no matter how terrible might be the fury of the elements, she could be held to her anchors and moorings. In her various trips round the coasts of England she has been exposed to very severe weather, and no vessel could have behaved better. Now that the experiment has been extended, and this huge ship has twice effected the passage of the Atlantic in safety, sufficient has been done to show that Mr. Brunel was right in his mechanical calculations, and that, as far as speed and safety are concerned, bulk and volume are not disadvantages to a sea-going ship. The question of whether or no it is more profitable to employ one larger vessel instead of four or six smaller ones for the transport of goods remains purely one for commercial men. It must be decided with reference to the economy of fuel, to the time occupied in loading and unloading, to the power of concentrating merchandise at a given moment at a given spot in sufficient abundance to freight so huge a ship. These, however, are calculations which fall within the usual domain of mercantile forethought, and it will soon be ascertained whether it is more profitable to build ships like the Great Eastern, or to adhere to the more ordinary dimensions and lines which our ship-builders have been in the habit of employing hitherto.

Of the Ocean Telegraphs, on the other hand, we are compelled to speak as failures. Europe and America were indeed linked together by the electric chain for a moment, and in their confusion and surprise stammered out a few assurances of amity and good will. This was no mean triumph for our race. We compelled the lightning to speak English. Franklin had drawn it down from heaven, but we sent it to school. The triumph, however, was as short-lived as it was glorious. The Atlantic refused to contain the chain with which the Old and the New World were bound together. After many an anxious trial we were forced to acknowledge ourselves beaten for the moment, although the perfect success of the experiment can only be a question of time. The most important point of the great attempt has received a successful solution. The electric power generated by human hands can be propelled, or can propel itself, across the Atlantic. If so, there seems no limit to what can be accomplished when more perfect machines are contrived, and brought into play. All that is now wanted seems to be a better protection for the wire, to enable it to resist the rubs and rough usage to which it is exposed at the bottom of the sea. The Atlantic cable is gone—and now we hear that of the wire which had been laid down in the Red Sea there is also an end. The wash of the water upon the coral-reefs, which in this section of the great sea are sharp as razors, is the probable cause of the calamity. Whatever the explanation may be, it is positive that not much communication by ocean telegraph remains. Certainly the difficulties will be overcome in the long run; but as yet, the history of marine telegraphs has been, comparatively speaking, a history of failure.

The third great ocean experiment remains. If what we hear of this new French war-ship be true, all the modern vessels in the English navy are of little further use than as transports. As far as speed goes, it has been found that La Gloire, can accomplish her thirteen or thirteen and a half knots,—no bad rate of progress for a ship of war. We are told that all the stories which we have heard, to the effect that when there is any sea, her lower-port guns cannot be used, are mere fabrications, intended to mislead the public opinion of Europe. The iron sides of the vessel have been subjected to the most crucial experiments, in order to test their power of resistance to projectiles; and, it is said, the desired end has been accomplished. The screw and rudder are so placed as to be safe from almost any possible contingency of warfare. There is neither mast nor rigging, nor spar shown. La Gloire is merely an iron hull upon the water—impervious to shot—of the same build fore and aft, so that she can be moved either way without turning;—protected by an iron-roofing from the efforts of boarders, and with certain contrivances for the expulsion of the smoke, so that the men, when in action, should not be blinded and choked like the gunners in a casemate battery. The vessel is said to carry, or to be capable of carrying, thirty-six or thirty-seven guns of the most formidable kind which modern science has produced.

If these results are true, we have no less a task before us than the entire re-building of the English navy!