Who should set a limit to its future encroachments? And hence, with a kind of sanguine pedantry, he pursued his design of 'keeping up with the day' and posting himself and his family on every mortal subject. Of this unpractical idealism we shall meet with many instances; there was not a trade, and scarce an accomplishment, but he thought it should form part of the outfit of an engineer; and not content with keeping an encyclopaedic diary himself, he would fain have set all his sons to work continuing and extending it. They were more happily inspired. My father's engineering pocket-book was not a bulky volume; with its store of pregnant notes and vital formulas, it served him through life, and was not yet filled when he came to die. As for Robert Stevenson and the Travelling Diary, I should be ungrateful to complain, for it has supplied me with many lively traits for this and subsequent chapters; but I must still remember much of the period of my study there as a sojourn in the Valley of the Shadow.

The duty of the engineer is twofold--to design the work, and to see the work done. We have seen already something of the vociferous thoroughness of the man, upon the cleaning of lamps and the polishing of reflectors. In building, in road-making, in the construction of bridges, in every detail and byway of his employments, he pursued the same ideal. Perfection (with a capital P and violently under-scored) was his design. A crack for a penknife, the waste of 'six-and-thirty shillings,' 'the loss of a day or a tide,' in each of these he saw and was revolted by the finger of the sloven; and to spirits intense as his, and immersed in vital undertakings, the slovenly is the dishonest, and wasted time is instantly translated into lives endangered. On this consistent idealism there is but one thing that now and then trenches with a touch of incongruity, and that is his love of the picturesque. As when he laid out a road on Hogarth's line of beauty; bade a foreman be careful, in quarrying, not 'to disfigure the island'; or regretted in a report that 'the great stone, called the Devil in the Hole, was blasted or broken down to make road- metal, and for other purposes of the work.'


Off the mouths of the Tay and the Forth, thirteen miles from Fifeness, eleven from Arbroath, and fourteen from the Red Head of Angus, lies the Inchcape or Bell Rock. It extends to a length of about fourteen hundred feet, but the part of it discovered at low water to not more than four hundred and twenty-seven. At a little more than half-flood in fine weather the seamless ocean joins over the reef, and at high-water springs it is buried sixteen feet. As the tide goes down, the higher reaches of the rock are seen to be clothed by Conferva rupestris as by a sward of grass; upon the more exposed edges, where the currents are most swift and the breach of the sea heaviest, Baderlock or Henware flourishes; and the great Tangle grows at the depth of several fathoms with luxuriance. Before man arrived, and introduced into the silence of the sea the smoke and clangour of a blacksmith's shop, it was a favourite resting-place of seals. The crab and lobster haunt in the crevices; and limpets, mussels, and the white buckie abound.

According to a tradition, a bell had been once hung upon this rock by an abbot of Arbroath, {91a} 'and being taken down by a sea- pirate, a year thereafter he perished upon the same rock, with ship and goods, in the righteous judgment of God.' From the days of the abbot and the sea-pirate no man had set foot upon the Inchcape, save fishers from the neighbouring coast, or perhaps--for a moment, before the surges swallowed them--the unfortunate victims of shipwreck. The fishers approached the rock with an extreme timidity; but their harvest appears to have been great, and the adventure no more perilous than lucrative. In 1800, on the occasion of my grandfather's first landing, and during the two or three hours which the ebb-tide and the smooth water allowed them to pass upon its shelves, his crew collected upwards of two hundredweight of old metal: pieces of a kedge anchor and a cabin stove, crowbars, a hinge and lock of a door, a ship's marking-iron, a piece of a ship's caboose, a soldier's bayonet, a cannon ball, several pieces of money, a shoe-buckle, and the like.

Records of a Family of Engineers Page 31

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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