While I was AWOL and not posting these last several weeks, the 94 year-old Harry Confusio (HC) continued sending me his portraits. The last one from March is of Robert Stephenson (1803-59).
Stephenson’s dad, George, was known as the “father of railroads” partly because his railroad gauge, at 4’8”, is the standard, conventional one around the world. It is sometimes referred to as Stephenson gauge.
George’s son carried on the the family tradition of excellent engineering by building some of England’s most important bridges of the 19th Century. His earliest bridge is the High Level Bridge in Newcastle, England. Watchers of the BBC crime detective tv series Vera can sometimes see the High Level Bridge in the background. Here’s a 19th century depiction of it.
Stephenson’s Royal Border Bridge is misnamed since it does not cross from England into Scotland; it ends about 15,000 feet short of reaching the border. It has 28 arches, and I believe it is a fine example of human stamina in the face of bewildering tediousness. Those poor stone workers! But a view from the Tweed River makes it an example of architectural tranquility and fortitude.
Stephenson completed many other projects, and he is often called the greatest engineer of the 19th century. That judgment is premature. But that is another story.
Wikipedia tells us:
The Croton Aqueduct or Old Croton Aqueduct was a large and complex water distribution system constructed for New York City between 1837 and 1842. It brought water by the force of gravity along 41 miles (66 km) from the Croton River in Westchester County into reservoirs in Manhattan, where local water resources had become polluted and inadequate for the growing population of the city. Although the aqueduct was supplemented and largely superseded by the New Croton Aqueduct, which was built in 1890, the Old Croton Aqueduct remained in service until 1955.
The man who designed and built the Croton Aqueduct was John B. Jervis (1795-1885), who is the subject of Harry Confusio’s portrait. HC told me, via email, that he just admires persons who work themselves up from laborers to leading engineers. Jervis was such a man. Whilst working as an axeman on the Erie Canal, Jervis studied on his own the principles of engineering. He later designed bridges and railroads and the steam engines that ran on the railroad.
HC says, in another email, that Jervis was the epitome of the great tradition of American exceptionalism–HC’s idea here is that Jervis never expiated upon exceptionalism:; he merely exemplified it. Jervis’s last words before he expired were “Water is life.”
Here is HC’s portrait of John B. Jervis:
Today we start a new series: Portraits by Harry Confusio Evans. HC, as he signs himself, is a retired general of the Salvation Army. He is 92 years old, and as a conscientious objector during World War II, he suffered through scorn and derision. Working in an ambulance unit of the 11th Armored Division (under General George Patton), he discovered his cause: to fight poverty and mental illness. He joined the Salvation Army in 1946 and remained active in it until 1996, when he had a stroke that limited the use of his right arm. In therapy to strengthen his left arm, he took up drawing. Initially, he drew rustic scenes and flowers. After hundreds of hours drawing and doing other rehab exercises, someone prevailed upon him to take up life drawing. He was smitten. Harry began portraits about 6 years ago, and after hundreds of sketches of models and of photos of famous people, Harry says, “I’m beginning to get the knack,”
Now, at 92, Harry has begun a series of historical portraits of architects of bridges. McGuireHimself is now committed to presented Harry’s sketches.
The first work that we present is HC’s portrait of James Buchanan Eads, the architect of the first permanent structure to cross the Mississippi River, in St. Louis:The Eads Bridge.
We’ll have more about HC, but for now his portrait of Eads will be sufficient.
A Clerihew for James B. Eads
James Buchanan Eads
performed many strenuous deeds.
Though he never invented the fridge,
he did engineer THE bridge!