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ONE MAN IN A DOCKYARD

I am a man of good average size and
strength; John Strongitharm by name; five
feet eight, in my shoes; and able to lift a
hundred-weight and a half, without turning
purple in the face. The last time I had
a tussle with Peter Briggs, I sent him clean
into the back parlour, from the front dining-room
(all in an amicable way), and my weight
is barely eleven stone, while Peter weighs
at least fourteen. I consider myself, therefore,
as neither weak nor helpless.

But of what use on earth is a single man?
I meanof how small an amount of practical
labour is an individual capable, when he
compares his powers, not only with the entire
magnitude of great public works, but with
one of the countless number of subordinate
parts, nay, one of the mere temporary details
and preliminaries. I stand in the evening
looking up at St. Paul'sa small dark object
in the broad shade of its huge sombre walls.
My eye ascends the darkness, and wanders
round the great black dome, and then slowly
returns by way of the roof of one of its great
porticoes, and finds its way down one of
the large dark pillars. What are my strength
and weight compared with that one pillar?
Could I have set it up therecould I have
moved one tenth part of it, or a twentieth
part of it, as it lay upon the ground? I can
throw Peter Briggs, who weighs fourteen
stone, but there is a cornice up there which I
could not stir if I had it before my feet, but
which, if it fell upon me, would exterminate me.

I often have this feeling in gazing at large
edifices. I took a stroll about the town of
Chatham, the other day, and almost everything
I looked at there, engendered it in an
unusual degree.

There was Rochester Castle, to begin with.
I surveyed that massive ruin from the Bridge,
and thought what a brief little practicaljoke I seemed to be, in comparison with its
solidity, stature, strength, and length of life.
I went inside; and, standing in the solemn
shadow of its walls, looking up at the blue
sky, its only remaining roof (to the disturbance
of the crows and jackdaws, who garrison
the venerable fortress now), calculated how
much wall of that thickness I, or any other
mere man, could build in his whole lifesay
from eight years old, to eightyand what a
ridiculous result would be produced. I
climbed the rugged staircase, stopping now
and then to peep at great holes where the
rafters of floors were oncebare as toothless
gums nowor to enjoy glimpses of the Medway
through dreary apertures like eye-sockets
without eyes; and, looking down from the
Castle ramparts on the Old Cathedral, and
on the crumbling remains of the old Priory,
and on the row of staid old red brick houses
where the Cathedral dignitaries live, and on
the shrunken fragments of one of the old City gates,
and on the old trees with their high tops
below me, felt quite apologetic to the
scene in general for my own juvenility and
insignificance. One of the river-boatmen had
told me, on the Bridge, (as country folks
usually do tell of such places) that in the
old times when those buildings were in
progress, a labourer's wages were "a penny a
day, and enough too." Even as a solitary
penny was to their whole cost, it appeared to
me was the utmost strength and exertion of
one man towards the labour of their erection.

As I sauntered along the old High Street
on my way towards Chatham, I seemed to
dwindle more and more. Here, was another
old gate; here, were very old houses, with the
strangest gables; here, was a queer, queer,
little old House, founded by Richard Watts,
Esquire, for the nightly shelter and
entertainment of so many poor travellers,
"not being rogues or proctors," who were to be
dismissed in the morning with a Godspeed
and fourpence each. It was all very well my
being able to throw Peter Briggs into the
next room, but what could I throw into the
next century? If I, John Strongitharm,
were to go at it (as the saying is) with all my
might and main, what object could I set up,
that should be on earth to be wondered at, a
few generations hence? Unassisted, probably
not so much as a mile-stone.

Coming into Chatham, it appeared to me
as if the feeble absurdity of an individual
were made more and more manifest at every
step I took. Men were only noticeable here
by scores, by hundreds, by thousands, rank
and file, companies, regiments, detachments,
vessels full for exportation. They walked
about the streets in rows or bodies, carrying

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