Reader, whilst you whisk along- in your cosy first- class carriage to Scotland, by the express, on that best of all lines, the Great Northern, doing your forty miles, or even more, an hour, with your comfortable foot-warmer, the ' Times ' in your hand, and probably your pipe in your mouth, does it ever enter your head that the 400 miles that it takes you ten hours, or even less, to accomplish, were not performed under two days and two nights by your old father, or even in a longer time by * poor dear old grandpapa,' who considered that a railroad was an invention of the devil, and who declared that he would never do any- thing but post if railways were permitted to travel at a greater rate than fifteen miles an hour? Does it ever occur to you that whilst you are rattling along at such a pace, and feeling so secure and cosy in your snug corner of the carriage, the pointsman, a mile ahead of yon, may, for some cause or unforeseen accident — possibly from the water in his tea having been too strong— have neglected to attend to his points, and that you are on the high road to the coal-train, which has just shunted to let you pass; or' ,that you are, without the least possible chance or means of avoiding it, well into the cattle-train, which is making all play to get away from the down express, and for which it ought to shunt at the next station? No wonder that your ' poor dear old grandpapa ' should rather post than subject himself to such terrors, the bare thoughts of which are enough to cause him a terrible nightmare. ' Ah! ' he would sometimes say, * it was very dangerous travelling by a stage-coach, or even by a post-chaise, particularly if there were four horses; for if the postboys got drunk, which they often did, there was a great danger of being upset. A stage-coach, too, was often very heavily loaded; and if two coaches were what they used to call "opposition coaches," they used to race one against the other, and gallop along the road, and swing about in a most dangerous manner; and when this was the case they sometimes got turned over, and the passengers used to get hurt. There was danger in travehing by a coach, but, after all, nothing to a railway. You got upset in a coach or in a chaise, and there you were. You get upset in a railway, and where are you? ' so said poor dear old grandpapa.
But you are very comfortable in your corner. Your ‘Times’ is, luckily for you, fairly clear as to print this morning, which, by the way, is not an everyday occurrence; your pipe draws well, which it very often does not; your tobacco is good, which it generally is, for it is Simmons' Mixture, of 62, Piccadilly — not quite worth fourteen shillings a pound, I should say; but that is his price, and good things, they say'. always fetch their value. Your thoughts turn to the pace you are going, and how merrily you slip along; you pass through the country as if you were riding a whirl- wind; you pass villages, and churches, and houses, and fields, and fences, and can hardly- distinguish them; your only object is to get over the ground; you are on your way to Edinburgh, and you are in the ' Rusher.' Well, you say to yourself, I wonder how my governor could ever get through his time out- side a coach; how deuced cold, too, he must have been on such a day as this; and as to ' poor dear old grandpapa,' I don't wonder that he's used up and done for, if they travelled still slower in his days than they did in the governor's. Such thoughts, perhaps, pass in your mind, and it is to you that I shall offer a few anecdotes of olden times, — tales of old coaching days along the old North Road, the old Holyhead Road, and other roads that in my early clays I have frequented, and upon which it has delighted me ' Col- legisse pulverem Olympicum.'
The anecdotes have all come under my own observation, and therefore I may be thought to be always talking and telling of myself. If I do appear thus egotistical, do not be too hard upon me. What I have noted down are real facts; and if, when you have finished reading your ' Times,' and have lit another pipe 'Reminiscences of a Gentleman Coachman' lu:lp to beguile your time till you come into collision wiih either of the trains I have before named, the little effort I have made to amuse you and the object I have had in view will be fully attained by me.
There cannot be many in 1874 who have been on a coach so long- since as 1823 or 1824. There may be some; but, alas! how few remain to tell the tale. There may be some few remaining, but time has thinned their ranks, and those who do re- main must, according to the rules of ' Anno Domini,' be old men. Fifty, or even forty, years is a long- time to look back upon, it is true; but in reality the time has flown away with incredible rapidity, and days and weeks and years have, as it were, travelled by an express train. I am one of the ' old ones ' that remain, and from that fact, and the fact of having always had a penchant for ' the Road,' I have seen many things happen during the last fifty )'ears that cannot by any means take place again. ' Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis,' as the poet has it. Since those days men are changed, coaches are changed, horses are changed, and the very modus operandi seems changed. There is no real ' Down the Road ' in the present day; and a real old mail and the real old stage-coach, with its piles of luggage and all other etceteras, should, before every recollec- tion of them is gone, have a place, fully equipped for the Road as in times of old, in the British Mu- seum. It would not be a bad thouoht for some enterprising old ' Down the Road ' to set the thing on foot, and thus hand down to posterity what would be a wonder to behold when the generation to come travel by electricity instead of steam.
The incidents and anecdotes which will appear in my book were not originally written for publication. For the amusement of those of tenderer years than myself who showed a tendency to follow in the steps of ' a worn-out coachman,' I used sometimes to relate some of my stories, and on many occasions I have had it said to me, ' Why don't you publish them? They would make a capital book to read on the rail- ROAD VERSUS RAIL.
It has often been a subject of wonder to me that no one has ever written any sort of book relating to Coaching or incidents of the Road in times gone by, and I am well aware that so humble a pen as mine cannot set- forth in a proper way the incidents I should wish to describe. In the present mode of travelling, com- fortable and expeditious as it may be, there is little of the amusement there formeily was on the Road. Everybody now seems to be in a hurry, everybody seems to wish to be first, and everybody does the best he can, and takes the quickest means to get to his journey's end.
The tea-kettle, with its steam, has taken the place of the four bright bays; the grimy engine-driver and stoker have taken the place of the coachman; the guard or conductor In his blue coat and foreign-looking cap, has taken the place of the guard in red, with his glazed hat and cockade; and the long mellow horn of former days is now replaced by a shrill and certainly not to be called mellow whistle. The railway carriage, it is true, is a large, commodious affair, with its comfortable padded seats, windows that fit tight, a lamp in the roof to turn darkness into light in the tunnels through which the train passes as it speeds on its headlong way through the bowels of the earth. A comfortable foot-warmer of tin or zinc filled with hot water warms the feet of the old ladies and gentle- men, and even of young ladies and young gentlemen, and of little boys returning home for their holidays, or with saddened hearts going back to school. How different is all this from former days, when the stage coach, with its four in and twelve out, or the mail, with its four in and three outside, exclusive of the coachman and guard, started upon its journey of per- haps three or four hundred miles at eight o'clock at night, or at, let us say, six o'clock in the morning! The snow is on the ground, the wind blowing piercingly cold, for it also freezes hard, the stars shining brighter than the brightest diamonds, and the morning, except for the light of the stars, as dark as pitch. It is six o'clock a.m., as they say in these days, in the month of February 1824, and no chance of reaching the ' George and Blue Boar,' Holborn, before nine or ten o'clock at night — a pretty look out for the three little boys who are now mounting on to the ' Regent ' coach at Stamford on their way back to school, wrapped in their long drab great-coats. The coach is piled up with luggage till it is loaded like a stage-waggon, and one only wonders how such a heavily loaded conveyance ever reached its destination without breaking down or being upset.
The three little fellows have mounted" up to their seats on the roof of the coach, and, though they have been told b)- their anxious parents to be sure and go inside, persist in going, one on the box with the coach- man, and the other two behind him. and declare man- fully that they are not cold and never feel the cold. They have each got some straw; not new straw, for that is cold stuff, but straw out of the stables which has been a little used and trampled by the horses; and having shoved their little feet into it, instead of on to a hot foot-warmer, as in the present day, feel as cheery as possible.
The boy of the present day has no idea of what his father, or perhaps I might better say his poor dear old grandpapa, suffered on his journey from six o'clock A.M. till his arrival at nine or ten o'clock p.m. at the ' George and Blue Boar,' Holborn, on such a morning as I have tried to describe, which albeit was a fine morning for the time of year, for there was no snow actually falling, nor was there any rain, as often was the case, to melt the snow and make everything sloppy and miserable — raining down from six in the morning- till the arrival of the coach at nine at night; raining down without intermission till coats, hats, and one's very flesh were wet through to the bone.
It was indeed misery, or next door to it; but still all were kept alive and in something like a merry mood by the incidents on the road.
The coachman was generally a good-natured kind of fellow, and had his jokes with every one along the road, in spite of either cold or wet.
The guard too was usually a cheery fellow, and often played the keyed bugle well, or, if on the mail, cheered one up with the sound of his ' mellow horn," often called his ' yard of tin,' for in old times it was made of tin, and was about a yard long. Such was the travelling in former days. The pace now no doubt is greater, the comfort is greater; but with all this the fun and interest, as well as the incidents, of the road are gone for ever.
The three little boys in their long drab great-coats are now old men; and, according to the traditions of the Pawnee Indian, are awaiting their turn to go to those happy hunting grounds where it is supposed by them that those who deserve to be happy will find ' the light of other days ' unfaded and bright as in days of old.
The coachmen are dead — the guards are dead. ' Trumpeter unus erat, coatum qui scarlet habebat,' he is dead; and his Mail Horn's sound is heard no more.