“Halloa! Below there!”
Industrial Revolution and new age, new ideas. This haunting story drives against the unconventional train of thoughts of those times. Is Dickens implying that superstition thoughts and beliefs should actually passed down in generations and it is nothing to be ashamed of? Those are the inherent sense of humans that are deeply ingrained in us, but shouldn’t be considered as the wickedness and foolishness possessed in human nature confined only in lower class entities. We should stay alert and pay the respect. I remember a preface of Bleak House on the belief of human spontaneous combustion by Dickens, those mysterious things at work, are just fascinating inspirations of authors in Victoria Era, let alone of resorting the answers in scientific methods. This reminds me of a tirade expressed by Benjamin in The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins:
“Oh, the new ideas! the new ideas! By all manner of means, Valeria, let us have the new ideas! The old morality’s all wrong, the old ways are all worn out. Let’s march with the age we live in…Let’s go and get crammed with ready made science at a lecture—let’s hear the last new professor, the man who has been behind the scenes at Creation, and knows to a T how the world was made, and how long it took to make it….the brand-new philosopher who considers the consolations of religion in the light of harmless playthings, and who is kind enough to say that he might have been all the happier if he could only have been childish enough to play with them himself. Oh, the new ideas! the new ideas! We were all monkeys before we were men, and molecules before we were monkeys! and what does it matter?”
This time, the premonition and the superstition is performed and played by a signalman of the railway who confides it to a gentleman (first-person narrative, very effective) who is on trip residing at an inn. The signalman is dark and sallow, “with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows”. As to his state of class and education, seems like nothing to be revered about,
- He had taught himself a language down here — if only to know it by sight, and to have formed his own crude ideas of its pronunciation, could be called learning it.
- He had also worked at fractions and decimals, and tried a little algebra; but he was, and had been as a boy, a poor hand at figures.
- he observed that instances of slight incongruity in such wise would rarely be found wanting among large bodies of men; that he had heard it was so in workhouses, in the police force, even in that last desperate resource, the army; and that he knew it was so, more or less, in any great railway staff.
With that premonition and omen told, no matter how that gentleman with a higher status tried to deny his own fright of wits more than thrice of the signalman’s evidence by resorting to new ideas and scientific proof, overall he is helpless to the signalman’s exhaustive situation and cannot explain the coincidence.
- Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine, I showed him how that this figure must be a deception of his sense of sight; and how that figures, originating in disease of the delicate nerves that minister to the functions of the eye, were known to have often troubled patients…
Does it seem a bit far-fetched? You’ll see the spookiness of it. Seems like Staplehurst accident in 1865 really haunts Dickens to write this story.