Cousin Phillis. Part I [1/4]
[Elizabeth C Gaskell]
Short Fiction, Serial
Engineers, Railways, Mechanics, Invention, Genius, Machinery, Expertise, Discovery, Patents, Dynamics, Mathematics, Monographs, Reading
The retrospective first-person narrative begins when Paul Manning starts work as 'a clerk under the engineer who had undertaken to make the little branch line from Eltham to Hornby', a situation got for him by his father, who had been 'a mechanic by trade, but [...] had some inventive genius, and a great deal of perseverance, and had devised several valuable improvements in railway machinery'. John Manning, who comes from Birmingham, 'did not do this for profit', but 'worked out his ideas because, as he said, "until he could put them into shape, they plagued him by night and by day"', and, as his son notes, 'it is a good thing for a country where there are many like him'. (619) When his work on the Eltham to Hornby railway line is halted because 'the shaking, uncertain ground was puzzling our engineers—one end going up as soon as the other was weighted down', Paul grudgingly visits some distant relations of his mother (622). There he becomes 'all aglow with shame' (630) because of the difference in accomplishments between 'railway gentlemen' (628) and his psalm-singing country cousins, with their knowledge of 'dead-and-gone languages' (631). He is 'half offended' by their silence when he inquires if they have heard of his father's 'discovery of a new method of shunting?', and exclaims, 'It was in the Gazette. It was patented. I thought everyone had heard of Manning's patent winch'. The Reverend Ebenezer Holman, however, observes that he has 'heard of him once before; and it is not many a one fifty miles away whose fame reaches Heathbridge'. (632) Holman reveals his 'prodigious big appetite' for all reading, including 'a volume of stiff mechanics, involving many technical terms, and some rather deep mathematics' which 'seemed easy enough to him' (633). He asks Paul to recommend a 'small book on dynamics that I could put in my pocket, and study a little at leisure times in the day', explaining that 'now that the railroads are coming so near us, it behoves us to know something about them' (633–34).
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