At first the Atlantic cable project was wholly an American enterprise. It was begun, and for two years and a half was carried on, solely by American capital. Our brethren across the sea did not even know what we were doing away in the forests of Newfoundland. Our little company raised and expended over a million and a quarter of dollars before an Englishman paid a single pound sterling. Our only support outside was in the liberal character and steady friendship of the Government of Newfoundland, for which we were greatly indebted to Mr. E. M. Archibald, then Attorney-General of that colony. In preparing for an ocean cable, the first soundings across the Atlantic were made by American officers in American ships. Our scientific menMorse, Henry, Bache, and Mauryhad taken great interest in the subject. The United States ship Dolphin discovered the telegraphic plateau as early as 1853, and the United States ship Arctic sounded across from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1856, a year before Her Majesty's ship Cyclops, under command of Captain Dayman, went over the same course. This I state, not to take aught from the just praise of England, but simply to vindicate the truth of history.
It was not till 1856 that the enterprise had any existence in England. In that summer I went to London, and there, with Mr. John W. Brett, Mr. (now Sir) Charles Bright, and Doctor Whitehouse, organized the Atlantic Telegraph Company. Science had begun to contemplate the necessity of such an enterprise; and the great Faraday cheered us with his lofty enthusiasm. Then, for the first time, was enlisted the support of English capitalists; and then the British Government began that generous course which it has continued ever sinceoffering us ships to complete soundings across the Atlantic and to assist in laying the cable, and an annual subsidy for the transmission of messages. The expedition of 1857 and the two expeditions of 1858 were joint enterprises, in which the Niagara and the Susquehanna took part with the Agamemnon, the Leopard, the Gordon, and the Valorous; and the officers of both navies worked with generous rivalry for the same great object. The capitalexcept one-quarter which was taken by myself was subscribed wholly in Great Britain. The directors were almost all English bankers and merchants, tho among them was one gentleman whom we are proud to call an AmericanMr. George Peabody, a name honored in two countries, since he has showered his princely benefactions upon both.
After two unsuccessful attempts, on the third trial we gained a brief success. The cable was laid, and for four weeks it workedtho never very brilliantly. It spoke, tho only in broken sentences. But while it lasted no less than four hundred messages were sent across the Atlantic. Great was the enthusiasm it excited. It was a new thing under the sun, and for a few weeks the public went wild over it. Of course, when it stopt, the reaction was very great. People grew dumb and suspicious. Some thought it was all a hoax; and many were quite sure that it never had worked at all. That kind of odium we have had to endure for eight years, till now, I trust, we have at last silenced the unbelievers.2
After the failure of 1858 came our darkest days. When a thing is dead, it is hard to galvanize it into life. It is more difficult to revive an old enterprise than to start a new one. The freshness and novelty are gone, and the feeling of disappointment discourages further effort.
Other causes delayed a new attempt. The United States had become involved in a tremendous war; and while the nation was struggling for life, it had no time to spend in foreign enterprises. But in England the project was still kept alive. The Atlantic Telegraph Company kept up its organization. It had a noble body of directors, who had faith in the enterprise and looked beyond its present low estate to ultimate success. Our chairman, the Right Honorable James Stuart Wortley, did not join us in the hour of victory, but in what seemed the hour of despair, after the failure of 1858, and he has been a steady support through all these years.
All this time the science of submarine telegraphy was making progress. The British Government appointed a commission to investigate the whole subject. It was composed of eminent scientific men and practical engineersGalton, Wheatstone, Fairbairn, Bidder, Varley, and Latimer and Edwin Clarkwith the secretary of the company, Mr. Sawardnames to be held in honor in connection with this enterprise, along with those of other English engineers, such as Stephenson and Brunel and Whitworth and Penn and Lloyd and Joshua Field, who gave time and thought and labor freely to this enterprise, refusing all compensation. This commission sat for nearly two years, and spent many thousands of pounds in experiments. The result was a clear conviction in every mind that it was possible to lay a telegraph across the Atlantic. Science was also being all the while applied to practise. Submarine cables were laid in different seasin the Mediterranean, in the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. The last was laid by my friend Sir Charles Bright.
When the scientific and engineering problems were solved, we took heart again and began to prepare for a fresh attempt. This was in 1863. In the United Statestho the war was still ragingI went from city to city, holding meetings and trying to raise capital, but with poor success. Men came and listened and said it was all very fine and hoped I would succeed, but did nothing. In one of the cities they gave me a large meeting and passed some beautiful resolutions and appointed a committee of "solid men" to canvass the city, but I did not get a solitary subscriber! In New York city I did better, tho money came by the hardest effort. By personal solicitations, encouraged by good friends, I succeeded in raising three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Since not many had faith, I must present one example to the contrary, tho it was not till a year later. When almost all deemed it a hopeless scheme, one gentleman came to me and purchased stock of the Atlantic Telegraph Company to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars. That was Mr. Loring Andrews. But at the time I speak of, it was plain that our main hope must be in England, and I went to London. There, too, it dragged heavily. There was a profound discouragement. Many had lost before, and were not willing to throw more money into the sea. We needed six hundred thousand pounds, and with our utmost efforts we had raised less than half, and there the enterprise stood in a deadlock. It was plain that we must have help from some new quarter. I looked around to find a man who had broad shoulders and could carry a heavy load, and who would be a giant in the cause.
At this time I was introduced to a gentleman, whom I would hold up to the American public as a specimen of a great-hearted Englishman, Mr. Thomas Brassey. In London he is known as one of the men who have made British enterprise and British capital felt in all parts of the earth. I went to see him, tho with fear and trembling. He received me kindly, but put me through such an examination as I never had before. I thought I was in the witness-box. He asked me every possible question, but my answers satisfied him, and he ended by saying it was an enterprise that should be carried out, and that he would be one of ten men to furnish the money to do it. This was a pledge of sixty thousand pounds sterling! Encouraged by this noble offer, I looked around to find another such man, tho it was almost like trying to find two Wellingtons. But he was found in Mr. John Pender, of Manchester. I went to his office in London one day, and we walked together to the House of Commons, and before we got there he said he would take an equal share with Mr. Brassey.
The action of these two gentlemen was a turning-point in the history of our enterprise; for it led shortly after to a union of the well-known firm of Glass, Eliott & Company, with the Guttapercha Company, making of the two one concern known as the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, which included not only Mr. Brassey and Mr. Pender, but other men of great wealth, such as Mr. George Elliott, and Mr. Barclay of London, and Mr. Henry Bewley of Dublin, and which, thus reenforced with immense capital, took up the whole enterprise in its strong arms. We needed, I have said, six hundred thousand pounds, and with all our efforts in England and America we raised only two hundred eightyfive thousand pounds. This new company now came forward, and offered to take the whole remaining three hundred fifteen thousand pounds, besides one hundred thousand pounds of the bonds, and to make its own profits contingent on success. Mr. Richard A. Glass was made managing director and gave energy and vigor to all its departments, being admirably seconded by the secretary, Mr. Shuter.
A few days after, half a dozen gentlemen joined together and bought the Great Eastern to lay the cable; and at the head of this company was placed Mr. Daniel Gooch, a member of Parliament, and chairman of the Great Western Railway, who was with us in both the expeditions which followed. His son, Mr. Charles Gooch, a volunteer in the service, worked faithfully on board the Great Eastern.
The good-fortune which favored us in our ship favored us also in our commander, Captain Anderson, who was for years in the Cunard Line. How well he did his part in two expeditions the result has proved, and it was just that a mark of royal favor should fall on that manly head. Thus organized, the work of making a new Atlantic cable was begun. The core was prepared with infinite care, under the able superintendence of Mr. Chatterton and Mr. Willoughby Smith, and the whole was completed in about eight months. As fast as ready, it was taken on board the Great Eastern and coiled in three enormous tanks, and on July 15, 1865, the ship sailed.
I will not stop to tell the story of that expedition. For a week all went well; we had paid out one thousand two hundred miles of cable, and had only six hundred miles farther to go, when, hauling in the cable to remedy a fault, it parted and went to the bottom. That day I never can forgethow men paced the deck in despair, looking out on the broad sea that had swallowed up their hopes; and then how the brave Canning for nine days and nights dragged the bottom of the ocean for our lost treasure, and, tho he grappled it three times, failed to bring it to the surface. The story of that expedition, as written by Dr. Russell, who was on board the Great Eastern, is one of the most marvelous chapters in the whole history of modern enterprise. We returned to England defeated, yet full of resolution to begin the battle anew. Measures were at once taken to make a second cable and fit out a new expedition; and with that assurance I came home to New York in the autumn.
In December I went back again, when lo! all our hopes had sunk to nothing. The Attorney-General of England had given his written opinion that we had no legal right, without a special act of Parliament (which could not be obtained under a year), to issue the new 12 per cent. shares, on which we relied to raise our capital. This was a terrible blow. The works were at once stopt, and the money which had been paid in returned to the subscribers. Such was the state of things when I reached London on December 24, 1865, and the next day was not a "merry" Christmas to me. But it was an inexpressible comfort to have the counsel of such men as Sir Daniel Gooch and Sir Richard A. Glass, and to hear stout-hearted Mr. Brassey tell us to go ahead, and, if need were, he would put down sixty thousand pounds more. It was finally concluded that the best course was to organize a new company, which should assume the work; and so originated the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. It was formed by ten gentlemen who met around a table in London and put down ten thousand pounds apiece. The great Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, undaunted by the failure of last year, answered us with a subscription of one hundred thousand pounds. Soon after the books were opened to the public, through the eminent banking-house of J. S. Morgan and Company, and in fourteen days we had raised the six hundred thousand pounds. Then the work began again, and went on with speed. Never was greater energy infused into any enterprise. It was only the last day of March that the new company was formed, and it was registered as a company the next day; and yet such was the vigor and dispatch that in five months from that day the cable had been manufactured, shipt on the Great Eastern, stretched across the Atlantic, and was sending messages, literally swift as lightning, from continent to continent.
Yet this was not "a lucky hit"a fine run across the ocean in calm weather. It was the worst weather I ever knew at that season of the year. The dispatch that appeared in the New York papers read, "The weather has been most pleasant." I wrote it "unpleasant." We had fogs and storms almost the whole way. Our success was the result of the highest science combined with practical experience. Everything was perfectly organized to the minutest detail.
But our work was not over. After landing the cable safely at Newfoundland, we had another taskto return to mid-ocean and recover that lost in the expedition of last year. This achievement has perhaps excited more surprize than the other. Many even now "don't understand it," and every day I am asked "How it was done?" Well, it does seem rather difficult to fish for a jewel at the bottom of the ocean two and a half miles deep. But it is not so very difficult when you know how. You may be sure we did not go fishing at random, nor was our success mere "luck." It was the triumph of the highest nautical and engineering skill. We had four ships, and on board of them some of the best seamen in Englandmen who knew the ocean as a hunter knows every trail in the forest. There was Captain Moriarty, who was in the Agamemnon in 1857-1858. He was in the Great Eastern in 1865, and saw the cable when it broke; and he and Captain Anderson at once took observations so exact that they could go right to the spot. After finding it, they marked the line of the cable by buoys; for fogs would come, and shut out sun and stars, so that no man could take an observation.
These buoys were anchored a few miles apart, they were numbered, and each had a flagstaff on it so that it could be seen by day, and a lantern by night. Having thus taken our bearings, we stood off three or four miles, so as to come broadside on, and then, casting over the grapnel, drifted slowly down upon it, dragging the bottom of the ocean as we went. At first it was a little awkward to fish in such deep water, but our men got used to it, and soon could cast a grapnel almost as straight as an old whaler throws a harpoon. Our fishing line was of formidable size. It was made of rope, twisted with wires of steel, so as to bear a strain of thirty tons. It took about two hours for the grapnel to reach bottom, but we could tell when it struck. I often went to the bow, and sat on the rope, and could feel by the quiver that the grapnel was dragging on the bottom two miles under us. But it was a very slow business. We had storms and calms and fogs and squalls.
Still we worked on day after day. Once, on August 17th, we got the cable up, and had it in full sight for five minutes, a long, slimy monster, fresh from the ooze of the ocean's bed, but our men began to cheer so wildly that it seemed to be frightened and suddenly broke away and went down into the sea. This accident kept us at work two weeks longer, but, finally, on the last night of August we caught it. We had cast the grapnel thirty times. It was a little before midnight on Friday night that we hooked the cable, and it was a little after midnight Sunday morning when we got it on board. What was the anxiety of those twenty-six hours! The strain on every man was like the strain on the cable itself. When finally it appeared, it was midnight; the lights of the ship, and those in the boats around our bows, as they flashed in the faces of the men, showed them eagerly watching for the cable to appear on the water.
At length it was brought to the surface. All who were allowed to approach crowded forward to see it. Yet not a word was spoken save by the officers in command who were heard giving orders. All felt as if life and death hung on the issue. It was only when the cable was brought over the bow and on to the deck that men dared to breathe. Even then they hardly believed their eyes. Some crept toward it to feel of it, to be sure it was there. Then we carried it along to the electricians' room, to see if our long-sought-for treasure was alive or dead. A few minutes of suspense, and a flash told of the lightning current again set free. Then did the feeling long pent up burst forth. Some turned away their heads and wept. Others broke into cheers, and the cry ran from man to man, and was heard down in the engine-rooms, deck below deck, and from the boats on the water, and the other ships, while rockets lighted the darkness of the sea. Then with thankful hearts we turned our faces again to the west.
But soon the wind rose, and for thirty-six hours we were exposed to all the dangers of a storm on the Atlantic. Yet in the very height and fury of the gale, as I sat in the electricians' room, a flash of light came up from the deep, which having crossed to Ireland, came back to me in mid-ocean, telling that those so dear to me, whom I had left on the banks of the Hudson, were well and following us with their wishes and their prayers. This was like a whisper of God from the sea, bidding me keep heart and hope. The Great Eastern bore herself proudly through the storm, as if she knew that the vital cord, which was to join two hemispheres, hung at her stern; and so, on Saturday, September 7th, we brought our second cable safely to the shore.
1 From an account which Mr. Field wrote in 1866. Mr. Field had been the chief promoter of the cable from the beginning. He was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1819, and died in New York in 1892. His activity in promoting the cable had began in 1854, when, after two years of work, he was able to connect Newfoundland with the mainland. Then followed his work in laying a cable across the Atlantic in 1858. Mr. Field was a brother of Stephen J. Field, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, of David Dudley Field, an eminent lawyer of New York, and of Henry M. Field, the author of many books of travel.
THE IMPEACHMENT OF ANDREW JOHNSON