ST. PIERRE LES CALAIS.
As I wandered down to the end of the long pier, which stretched out its long arm, bent like an elbow, looking, like all French piers, as if made of frail wickerwork, I thought of a day, some years ago, when that eminent inventor, Bessemer, conceived the captivating idea of constructing a steamboat that should abolish sea-sickness for ever! The principle was that of a huge swinging saloon, moved by hydraulic power, while a man directed the movement by a sort of spirit-level. Previously the inventor had set up a model in his garden, where a number of scientists saw the section of a ship rocking violently by steam. I recall that pleasant day down at Denmark Hill, with all the engineers assembled, who were thus going to sea in a garden. A small steam-engine worked the apparatus—a kind of a section of a boat—which was tossed up and down violently; while in the centre was balanced a small platform, on which we experimenters stood. On large tables were laid out the working plans of the grand Bessemer steamship, to be brought out presently by a company.
A year and more passed away, the new vessel was completed, and nearly the same party again invited to see the result, and make trial of it. I repaired with the rest. Nothing more generous or hospitable could be conceived. There was to be a banquet at Calais, with a free ticket on to Paris. It was a gloomy iron-gray morning. The strange outlandish vessel, which had an engine at each end, was crowded with connoisseurs. But I was struck with the figure of the amiable and brilliant inventor, who was depressed, and received the premature congratulations of his friends somewhat ruefully. We could see the curious ‘swinging saloon’ fitted into the vessel, with the ingenious hydraulic leverage by which it could be kept nicely balanced. But it was to be noted that the saloon was braced firmly to the sides of its containing vessel; in fact, it was given out that, owing to some defect in its mechanism, the thing could not be worked that day. Nothing could be handsomer than this saloon, with its fittings and decorations. But, strange to say, it was at once seen that the principle was faulty, and the whole impracticable. It was obvious that the centre of gravity of so enormous a weight being brought to the side would imperil the stability of the vessel. The bulk to be moved was so vast, that it was likely to get out of control, and scarcely likely to obey the slight lever which worked it. There were many shakings of the engineering heads, and some smiles, with many an ’I told you so.’ Even to the outsiders it seemed Utopian.