I am not sure that portraits of the artist by himself, though there are notable and noble instances to the contrary, are often successful. We rarely “see oursels as ithers see us,” and are inclined to regard our virtues and our vices with equal equanimity, and to paint ourselves in too alluring colours; but I will do my best to tell my tale with strict veracity, and with all the modesty I can muster.
An autobiographer, too, exposes himself to the charge of egotism, but I must run the risk of that, endeavouring to avoid the scathing criticism of him who wrote:—
“The egotist . . . . . . . Whose I’s and Me’s are scattered in his talk, Thick as the pebbles on a gravel walk.”
Fifty years of railway life, passed in the service of various companies, large and small, in England, Scotland and Ireland, in divers’ capacities, from junior clerk to general manager, and ultimately to the ease and dignity of director, if faithfully presented, may perhaps, in spite of all drawbacks, be not entirely devoid of interest.
I was born at Sheffield, on Good Friday, in the year 1851, and my only sister was born on a Christmas Day.
My father was in the service of the Midland Railway, as also were two of his brothers, one of whom was the father of the present General Manager of the Midland. When I was but ten months old my father was promoted to the position of accountants’ inspector at headquarters and removed from Sheffield to Derby. Afterwards, whilst I was still very young, he became Goods Agent at Birmingham, and lived there for a few years. He then returned to Derby, where he became head of the Mineral Office. He remained with the Midland until 1897, when he retired on superannuation at the age of seventy-six. Except, therefore, for an interval of about three years my childhood and youth were spent at Derby.
My earliest recollection in connection with railways is my first railway journey, which took place when I was four years of age. I recollect it well. It was from Derby to Birmingham. How the wonder of it all impressed me! The huge engine, the wonderful carriages, the imposing guard, the busy porters and the bustling station. The engine, no doubt, was a pigmy, compared with the giants of to-day; the carriages were small, modest four-wheelers, with low roofs, and diminutive windows after the manner of old stage coaches, but to me they were palatial. I travelled first-class on a pass with my father, and great was my juvenile pride. Our luggage, I remember, was carried on the roof of the carriage in the good old-fashioned coaching style. Four-wheeled railway carriages are, I was going to say, a thing of the past; but that is not so. Though gradually disappearing, many are running still, mainly on branch lines—in England nearly five thousand; in Scotland over four hundred; and in poor backward Ireland (where, by the way, railways are undeservedly abused) how many? Will it be believed—practically none, not more than twenty in the whole island! All but those twenty have been scrapped long ago. Well done Ireland!