Thomas Carlyle

Victorian Railways, Punch, and "Hudson's Statue" 

Wendy Vaughon '97 (English 61 1993) - Brown University

 The railway played a crucial part in the Industrial Revolution and influenced the outlook of an entire nation. Workers migrated from the country to the city to meet the increasing need for laborers in the rail system. Markets expanded and the prices of goods fell sharply as the cost of transport became drastically cheaper. To maintain the level of economical growth that accompanied the creation of the railroads, the government assisted industrialists in the promotion of the system. 
 
A new breed of avaricious businessmen, each competing for the lion's share of the railway market, soon emerged. Punch, a satirical journal of the period, commented that, "with regard to railway accidents that it is 'the pace that kills'. This is particularly the case when companies go it too fast in the pursuit of profit." 
George Hudson, as Carlyle points out in "Hudson's Statue", served as the "railway king" -- characterization that was meant to convey no reverence or admiration. Carlyle claimed, "His worth, I take it, to English railroads, much more to English men, will turn out to be extremely inconsiderable; to be incalculable damage rather!" 

Carlyle did not limit his verbal lashings to Hudson himself, but he included society as a whole, saying of the public, "They stand there, poor wretches, gradually rusting in the sooty rain; black and dismal, ... like a set of grisly undertakers come to bury the dead spiritualisms of mankind ... They voted for him [Hudson] by purchasing his script with a profit made to him." Near the end of the essay, Carlyle even more vehemenly objected to popular support of Hudson whene openly attacks the reader: "Go at your pleasure, there assemble yourselves, and worship your bellyful, you absurd idolaters" a he makes Hudson a "Brazen Calf" and "Monster". Carlyle tried to show that men were willing to give up their spirituality, basically, their very own humanity, to worship an falae God, whose Bible was constructed of shillings and scripts. 

In 1851 echoed Carlyle's sentiment similarly mocking both citizen and mogul: "Amongst the 'Railway Returns' of the last week, there has been the singular omission of a most important one. We mean the return of Mr. Hudson to railway affairs. The Hon. M.D. attended, and spoke at, a railway meeting last week. We are afraid, however, that this is the only return railways are ever to get from Mr. Hudson" (7 [1851]: 121). Although not as openly abrasive as "Hudson's Statue," Punch agreed on this issue with Carlyle. 


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