Backwards and Downwards
THESE reflections were prompted by looking through the Badminton Library compendium on ” Motors and Motor Driving,” edited by Alfred Harmsworth, and published by Longmans in 1903. This wonderful handbook covers the whole field of motoring when the century was yomig, beginning with a short history, an enchanting chapter on
the ” Utility of Motor Vehicles,” of which more anon, advice on the purchase of a car, thoughtful hints about dress, a medical slant, technical articles on steam, electric and ” petrol ” (as it was always written) cars ; wise words from a lawyer, “How to Drive,” by Jarrott and Edge, reminiscences, and so on. There are, of course, constant references to the “reader,” the ” beginner,” the tyro.” And as I read I found myself looking at the book from the point of view of such a “tyro ” as one would expect to have studied the work when it was first sprung upon the world ; and the more I read the more the ” reader ” began to take on the guise of a hero, although still a beginner and probably still dim witted. I saw him as a placid country gentleman, perfectly content to hunt four days a week and receive his Times three days late, being gently persuaded by his wife (wives used to persuade gently in those civilised days) that he should acquire a motor. I could see the first stubborn refusal, the further pleading, the pointing out of advantages, the fact that Mr. So-and-So had a car, the arrival of friends to tea in. say, an electric brougham, the further considering, the final reluctant compromise to “look into
it.” There is little doubt that it was at this stage that our hero first encountered the Badminton wide maim, and it is the fact that he studied the hook and still saw fit to buy himself a motor which really makes him a hero. Let us now ace,ornpany him as he delves into his new book. The first chapter, on history, he probably skipped, and went on to the “Utility of the Motor Vehicle,” by the Hon. john Scott Montague, M.P. He is at once informed that it is harder to get a good chauffeur than a good car, but that,
if he does get one “who is content to take you round corners at a reasonable Speed when the wood pavement Or asphalt is wet, then you can enjoy your newspaper or talk to your companion with as much serenity as if you were sitting in your favourite chair at home,” Mr. Montague goes on to describe the advantages of the motor to the sportsman of considerable possessions, including a ” stable of at least six horses,’ and a generous property affording good shooting and fishing, and points out the advantages of having two ears, one for the guns and one for the loaders ; he extols the merits of shooting golden plover, wood pigeons and partridges from the car “without rising from the seat,” while another unusualidea of his is to pursue hares and rabbits at night by acetylene lamplight and “pick them off.” He sensibly points out that “panicked rabbits or hares who dash frantically under your wheel” are more suitable for making soup than for roasting.” We may suppose Our embryo motorist to have absorbed this chapter with inter est and mounting enthusiasm, but this is somewhat damped in the opening paragraph of the next chapter on “The Choice of a Motor.” Hear Mr. Harmsworth. “Of the three or four hundred types and varieties now in existence, many are of no practical use, some are extremely complicated, not a few dangerous, and many more or less faulty in construction.” And, again. “The terin horsepower is open to much misconstruction, and used very loosely by manufacturers in their advertisements . . . any person who has carefully considered the pages of advertisements in the motor papers will long ago have come to the conclusion that for ways that are dark
*****•••••••••••******************e.. Peter Robertson-Rodger discourses on the sorrows of the “Good Old Days.”
the motor-car agent is, in some cases, a long way in advance of the horse dealer.” He goes on to advise the fitting of solid tyres on the back, to avoid expenditure, and says : “1 aminclined to think that the pneumatic tyre craze has been altogether overdone by motor-car owners.” After a description of his Serpolltt “travelling carriage” and a dissertation on Continental touring (” it is pleasant to take two ears, one faster than the other . . . the fast one can be sent on ahead so that dinner and rooms for the night can be ordered “), the chapter ends with advice on buying a secondhand car. Here we are advised : “Insist on a whole day’s trial on a hilly road,” and “Let the engine be taken to pieces after the trial, to ascertain condition of cylinders, gear and bearings. Should the cylinders prove to have been heated on any ocea
sion, drop the idea of purchasing the car.” Try that on to-day ! It is to be supposed that our hero passed up. the diverting chapters on dress, as we shall have to.; they are so incredibly funny that they need quoting in
One excerpt from each must suffice. Says Lady Jenne ” . . . try as hard as they can, it is almost impossible for women to make the dress they have to wear a becoming one.” The stark truth of this is backed up with awful emphasis by four photographs of the most slab-faced women imaginable. In the men’s section, Baron de Lyevelt, discoursing on suitable headgear, says : ” . . . so far as the roads are concerned, the peaked cap is only to be seen on the heads of drivers and conductors of tramcars,” and discourages its use.
There follows a treatise on motoring from the medical YieW point by Sir Henry Thompson, Bart. I make no excuse for quoting at length–nothing I could add could hope to in prove this superb chapter.
” Personally,” writes Sir Henry, “I have found my drives to improve my general health. The easy jolting which occurs when a motor car is driven at a fair speed over the highway conduces to a healthy agitation ; it acts on the liver,’ to use a popular phrase, which means only that it aids the peristaltic movements of the bowels and promotes the performance of their functions ; thus accomplishing the good in this respect which arises from riding on horseback. Horse-riding has, however, the advantage of necessitating exercise of the muscles of the legs. This is one of the disadvantages of motoring, but I have found that it may to some extent be overcome by alighting at the end of a drive of 20 miles, and running smartly for two Or three hundred yards. I make this a practice in relation to my motor drives.” (Sir Henry was eighty-two.) “I have known instances of ladies suffering from defective nerve power who have derived great belielit from the invigorating and refreshing effect of meeting a current of air caused by driving in an automobile.” The particular nerve trouble is not specified, but Sir Henry recommends motoring as a cure for insomnia and overwork. “A drive behind a horse Scarcely amounts to a recreation after the turmoil and worry of his work.” The girls come in
for it too. ” . . . if women are going to motor, and motor seriously—that is to say, use it as a means of locomotion-they must relinquish the hope of keeping their soft, peach-like blown.” Eye trouble should be guarded against by washing the eyes with a weak solution of boracic acid.
The technical chapters which follow, including a remarkably inept, explanation of the four-stroke cycle, vill leave us as cold as our novice. Ills waning interest is given an unpleasant kick in the pants lie comes suddenly upon an arresting coo trikation by the Hon. C. S. Rolls, -“rhe Caprices of the Petrol Motor,” and after struggling with a few pages of the terrifying advice contained therein, there is little doubt that he hurled the book on the floor and mixed himself a stiff drink. I think it was probably the following passage that caused him to take this wise and sociable step. Dealing with the difficulties of starting, one is advised that “in obstinate cases it may be necessary to warm the carburetter underneath by means of a little cotton waste .soaked in methylated spirit. There may be a slight flare-up, but this will assist the carburation, and there is nothing to fear from it, so long as the main supply cock has been carefully closed.” If you .can’t imagine the effect of that advice on a sensitive man who disliked the idea of motoring anyway, I can. But worse is to come. After warning the ” innocent motorist ” of the dangers of a broken arm when endezi vollrilig to crank up, we come to a list of live “road troubles ” : (1) motor stops ; (2) motor nearly stops and then goes on again ; (3) motor will not pull ‘ well ; (4) motor will not govern or ‘cut out ‘ properly ; (5) unusual noises.” (The last, of course, can hardly be called Out of (late.) Each of these haunting possibilities is dealt with fully, but in such a manner that our by now almost besotted hero probably has the impression that he must not only be a trained ” mecanicien ” but should be accompanied by a sort of travelling workshop and Store. He -finds he must be prepared, Say, when running over to play tennis, to drain out all the water and refill, repair hose connections, paraffin his cylinders, change exhaust Valve springs, grind his ” pressure valve,” detect a missing Cylinder, clean the
“mushroom piece ” of his carburetter, beware of ” puffing ” noises and irregular ” bursting ” noises, and ensure that no part of his car gets “carried away” by contact with a dog. Finally comes a series of tips, of which I quote the following :—
Don’t spill the petrol over your clothes, and then strike a match to light your pipe.
Don’t let a willing ostler fill up your petrol tank with water.
Don’t pedal your tricycle for half an hour before remembering the plug, unless the doctor recommends it.
Don’t let the starting handle fly off and hit you on the chin, and don’t trouble to turn on the petrol tap if there is none in the tank. We near the end, but from the chapter of ” Rem in iscences ” by Sir John :11a el 1on al(I, K. . B., one incident stands out worthy of ” Hellsapoppin,” or the Marx brothers. A motor car, driven by a lady, and with her father as passenger, suffered one of the usual complete break
downs, necessitating reli)( by a horse. After a long wait, they got the horse attached to the car, III en t erprising yokel on its back, and the two travellers on the car. The yokel got the horse cracking at unexpected .speed and nearly undid the knot in the rope. At a cry from the car crew, he stopped as suddenly, so that the car ran into the horse. The horse then sat down on the dash of the car and broke it in half. On being persuaded to rise, another start was made, but this time the horse got its leg over the rope and, in some way, wound the rope round the wheel. The car then ran over its hoof . . . the ding-dong battle continued most of the way home. I like to think a gentle smile lit up the tired face of our hero, if he ever got as far as this. But with his bead in a whirl of unreliable cars, unobtainable drivers, bursting noises, flare-ups, shady dealers, sprinting doctors, bloomless women, tram drivers’ hats, and chasing fauna by lamplight. I think it muelt more probable that he mixed himself another large drink and then ordered the gig. His gently persuading wife ? Ile probably murdered Footnote.—Page 374 : “There is no space to write of the humours of automobilism.”