[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
I was retained in a case in which believers in "Animal Magnetism," " Spiritualism," and such like, may take an interest.
Stopperton [Stopporton in 1861/3 directories - piano tuner Ramsey], a well-known teacher of music and a local preacher, called upon me one day, and stated his case somewhat in the following fashion. For some months previously he had been working out in his own mind a new method of propelling steam vessels at a diminished cost with increased velocity. Having completed his plan, he, had a few weeks before, made a sketch of it and strewn it to Mr. Ward [Francis Ward], the ironmonger and, after explaining the whole thing to him, had given him an order to make a copper model of the vessel, that he might deposit it with his application at the Patent Office. That a week ago, he (Stopperton) had paid a visit to Mr Healy [Ramsey/Peel 1849/51 d.1861], a Methodist minister stationed at Peel. to give a music lesson to his daughter, and being invited to stay all night, had done so. Having a high opinion of Mr. Healy, he had, during the evening, consulted him about the invention and its likelihood of success. He said that Mr Healy had taken the very kindliest interest in it, studying all the details, and had given him much valuable advice. That a day or two subsequently to this Mr. Ward called upon him, and informed him that his discovery was not new, and that therefore he had no claim to a patent. In proof of this Mr. Ward told him that Mr. Healy had been with him and had instructed him forthwith to make application, on his behalf to the Patent Office for an invention " for propelling steam vessels with increased speed and decreased cost." He had explained to him the exact nature of the scheme which, in point of fact, was precisely similar to his. Stopperton thereupon-at once took a car, there were no railways then, and posted off to see Mr. Healy, and complained of what he had done. Upon being remonstrated with, that gentleman had calmly replied, " That long prior to his interview with him the Lord had appeared unto him (Healy) in a vision by night, and had revealed the secret unto him, as one of the elect, for the purpose of promoting the extension of Missionary enterprise in the world, by lessening the cost and increasing the speed of transit, "From Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand,'" etc. I gravely asked Stopperton whether he believed in this extraordinary instance of spiritual revelation to his brother preacher ? To which re irreverently answered, " It's a confounded piece of humbug, that's what it is I " The ultimate result was that Brother Stopperton went to law with Brother Healy, and " that before the unbelievers," and a Bill in Chancery was filed. In the course of the evidence a letter of Healy's to Ward was produced, in which he wrote, " I have conceived, I think, how steam packets may be propelled to Liverpool in two hours, and to America in a few days, on an entirely new principle"; and a postcript was added as follows: " Perhaps it would create a smile to suppose that some superior power had given me this secret, which occurred not twenty-four hours before you received my intimation. I now say I have no misgiving or fear about it but one, that we shall be frustrated. I am fully convinced that the time has come, in the order of Providence, for a great step !! " etc., etc.
Stopperton being a poor man, and unable either to provide the money to proceed with the invention or with the Chancery suit, the dispute ended in a compromise, Healy advancing the necessary funds for the working of the patent, which, however, in spite of the Divine revelation, ended in a complete failure. Healy was well-known in Peel, and so was the story of the famous steamboat " Revelation." Upon one occasion, in the presence of Robert J. Moore (late High-Bailiff) my good friend, Mr. Robert Corrin, and several others, he was holding forth upon the merits of the scheme, its Divine origin, and its consequent certain future success. His auditors ventured respectfully to question its feasibility, whereupon Healy, waxing warm, grew eloquent, and emphatically affirmed that the patent was as certain of success as that he could put his corporeal foot upon the chair before him, and he proceeded to prove how easily this could be accomplished. Unfortunately the moment he put the weight of his leg upon the chair it tilted up causing, alas! the eloquent preacher to fall on the broad of his very broad back, amid a roar of merriment. Verily it did not seem that he and the Higher Powers had remained upon the same confidential and friendly terms as when the vision by night was vouchsafed to him. The humorous vision by day of Healy on the broad of his back, which was seen, quickly succeeded the vision by night which was not seen; and moreover was speedily followed by the utter smash up of his speculation, which the godly man not only saw with his eyes, but, unkindest cut of all, felt in his pockets.
The settlement of this case immediately preceded a very bright Summer vacation, wherein Henry Watts, Arthur Bluett, Dr. Cox, and I made up a happy quartette to visit the English Lakes, Low-wood Cottage Ambleside, being our headquarters. En route, we spent one night at the Globe Hotel, Cockermouth, the birthplace of Wordsworth, where the only sleeping accommodation we could obtain was two double-bedded rooms. We tossed up, and it fell to Arthur Bluett's lot to occupy a bed in my room.
We were to start the next morning at eight sharp by the one and only coach of those times; and, acting upon the advice of a gentleman staying in the Hotel, who warned us that visitors frequently missed the coach on account of the " Boots " forgetting to call them, we carefully booked our seats, and impressing upon the Landlord the absolute importance of our being awakened not a minute later than half-past six, we retired to bed. Arthur Bluett slept the sleep of a weary traveller. I awoke early, and found to my surprise, that it was only half-past three. It was a lovely Summer morningso bright and sunny that it might have been ten o'clock. I beheld Arthur in his bed, giving conclusive signs, both aural and ocular, of heavy slumber; and I felt that the occasion might be improved
I quietly got out of bed, went over and took his watch out of his bed-pocket, altered the hour from halfpast three to a quarter to eight, replaced it, and returned to my bed. I then commenced making huge yawning noises, as though reluctantly awaking, which soon aroused him. I remarked, in a sleepy sort of way, that it seemed late, and asked him to look at his watch, which, in a half-awake sort of manner he did. The moment he saw it, what a change in his action! He literally sprang out of bed, made madly for the bellpull, at which he violently tugged as if the house were on fire. He then rushed to his clothes and began dragging them on; then another frantic pull at the bellrope, and a still more frantic rush to his clothes, at the same time calling excitedly to me to get up.
Presently the Landlord appeared at the door in his night costume, and evidently in great alarm, asked, "What's the matter, gentlemen?"
"Matter," said Arthur, opening the door, "you know what's the matter! Here we are never called, and the Coach starting in ten minutes, you ought to be ashamed of yourself "
" Why, sir, the Coach does not start until eight o'clock."
" I know that." replied Arthur, still hurrying on his clothes, " how are we to get dressed and have breakfast in ten minutes ? "
" Ten minutes, sir I Why, it's not much more than half-past three! "
" What! " said Arthur, darting a look across at me.
Now during this scene of excitement I had been holding the bed clothes up so that my face should not by visible, for I was shaking with smothered laughter. Directly he turned towards me, he, from the movement of the bed clothes, guessed how it was, and made for me with a bound. But I was prepared, and wound the clothes tightly around me, shouting with laughter, which I no longer tried to suppress.
After apologising to the Landlord, Arthur then quietly undressed and returned to bed; and we both enjoyed several hours of refreshing slumber.
Poor Arthur! He was a general favourite. He now sleeps in a churchyard in Florence. Doubtless he will be awakened in good time for the last coach!
In those days good Mrs. Townsend was Hostess at the Salutation Inn, then the chief hotel of Ambleside.
The poet Wordsworth, in the April preceding, had died at Rydal Mount. As one of his great admirers, I paid a visit to the house, which I found in possession of an army of workmen, in preparation for a new tenant. Making a tour of all the rooms, I finally came to the bedroom in which he had passed quietly from this life and there, immediately above the place where his bed had stood, hung a bell of the usual bedroom type, which, I found, communicated with the room of his sister Dorothea, his life-long companion and adviser. This bell excited my keenest interest; for was it not the bell which for many years had sounded in the Poet's ears ? The bell which, during her last illness, had been always rung by Dorothea when she wished to see him. I determined to possess myself of this relic of the deceased Poet. But how?
The workmen told me -that the house belonged to Lady de Fleming, who lived a mile away. Finding that she was related to Arthur Bluett, we went together to see her, and to my request for permission to take the bell she most kindly consented. We returned therefore to Rydal Mount, obtained the coveted bell, and came away in triumph. That bell has always been one of my most cherished possessions.
One more scene of holiday rollicking will I give, and then back to work. One of our jaunts was a drive to Coniston, where we put up at the Waterhead Inn, near the lake side.
Now all through our journeyings, Watts, whilst fairly enjoying himself, had grumbled at the charges at the hotels, and the inattention of the waiters. Watts was a thoroughly good fellow, moreover he was a very capable man, with a marvellous memory; but he was eccentric, his movements were jerky; his mode of speech ejaculatory and even mystic. In other words, he was a learned oddity.
At this Hotel I called the Head-waiter aside, and pointing to our friend, suggested that he' should keep his eye on him, that he was quite, harmless, but, I murmured " Kleptomania," and hinted that spoons and forks were his special weakness.
Shortly afterwards, having ordered dinner for our return, we went for a row on the lake. On our way through the hall, Watts picked up a guide-book to read in the boat, supposing it to belong to the Hotel. Upon our return the Waiter, with much politeness, accostedWatts and asked if the book were his? Finding it was not, he informed him that it belonged to a visitor who had been staying at the Hotel, and who had left during our absence, after fruitless searchings and enquiries for the missing book. I could see that despite Watts' apologies the Waiter had his own opinion upon the matter.
Dinner was soon served, and a very capital one it was, the Head-waiter devoting himself almost exclusively to Watts, I observed. He was always at his side, changed his plates, handed him the various dishes, saw to his being supplied with clean forks and spoons, etc., etc., in fact attended to his every little want. Even when the coffee came in, it was the Head-waiter that specially handed a cup to Watts, who was evidently well-pleased with these very marked attentions. When it came to each paying our share of the dinner, adding our usual sixpence apiece for the waiter, Watts, though usually a close-fisted old bachelor, insisted upon our adding another sixpence per head, as the waiter had been so " extraordinarily good."
For several years afterwards I frequently heard him praising the waiting at that particular Hotel, and recommending it strongly as " the best in the whole Lake District." He never, to the day of his death, discovered that he was indebted to me for all the attention he received there!
I was recalled to the Island by a letter from my clerk, informing me that a gentleman particularly wished to confer with me upon a professional matter, consequently our happy quartette was broken up.