STEPHENSON, George, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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'A most horrible affair to witness!'

STEPHENSON, George (1781-1848). Colliery and railway engineer.
Fine long Letter Signed to Inge, 10 pages 8vo on three separate sheets (small pin-holes at the head of each), Tapton House, 24 December 1845. Describing his visit to Spain where he had been conducting a survey with a view to making a railway, and describing in gory detail a bullfight that he had witnessed.
George Stephenson had been invited to Spain to examine the proposed line of the 'Royal North of Spain Railway'. He left England with Sir Joshua Walmsley and was joined in Paris by Mackenzie, the contractor for the Orleans and Tours Railway, who showed them his works and accompanied them to Tours, where he presumably left them to continue their journey by carriage. Stephenson was to spend the better part of two weeks, rising at dawn each day, in examining the ground, but in the event the problems which it presented, in particular the need to construct two considerable tunnels, and the failure of the Spanish government to provide practical and financial guarantees, meant that the project was abandoned.

Stephenson begins the letter by announcing his recovery from a severe attack of pleurisy [the malady from which he was to die in three years' time] following his return from Spain, and then gives his views on Spain and the difficulties of the terrain.
'... it is a lost Country, and I can hardly see how it is to be improved: it is hemmed in by mountains along the Midteranean [sic] and along the Bay of Biscay by the Pyrenees; these mountains are so high and rugged that it would be very difficult ['with' deleted] to make good roads over them. I have crossed the Pyrenees 5 times in different places in order to find out the lowest pass: I rode 30 miles among the mountains just under the Snow ridge; we had an English carriage with us and we had it drawn in situations by bullocks & mules where a carriage had never been before & I can assure you I enjoyed my journey much but rather over fatigued.'
'We had letters from the Political chiefs from Town to town which facilitated our journey very much. I was 4 days in Madrid & was introduced to nearly all the Grandees in that place. Narvaes the Prime Minister [
Ramón Maria Narváez, later Duke of Valencia] is a clever, bold looking man.'

Leaving aside the railway problem Stephenson proceeds with his vivid description of the bullfight, which seems to have at once appalled and excited him. This account appears to be in contradiction to Samuel Smiles's assertion (Lives of George and Robert Stephenson, 1874) that he had declined the invitation to attend:
'There was a Bull fight at Madrid while I was there - a most horrible affair to witness! I saw one bull kill 3 horses in 5 minutes! when the Bull made the attack upon the horse & horseman he rushed upon him with such fierceness that he lifted both horse and rider from the ground one horn into his heart and the other into his intestines; of course the life was soon out of the horse when the bull immediately made the attack on another: there were about 12,000 people to witness this fight. When the bull has killed so many horses it is then his turn to die. It requires an extraordinary clever man to dispatch him[,] the bull is deceived by rushing at a red flag while the man that holds the sword slips behind the horse & before the Bull has time to turn he rushes his sword betwixt the shoulders & through the spinal marrow. If the mark is well taken the Bull instantly drops - more of this horrible affair when I see you! only think of the Ladies visiting this sight!'

He gives his views on the Spanish people before regretfully declining Inge's invitation to spend Christmas with him.
'The Peasantry amongst the mountains are a finer race of people than they are ['amongst' deleted] in the large towns. Betwixt the Pyrenees & Madrid the productions of the soil are corn & wine; the latter a penny a bottle! you get as many grapes for a penny as you could eat; notwithstanding all this it is very far inferior to England. ...'


£1850 [No: 25603]
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