What Can Be More Palpably Absurd Than the Prospect Held Out of Locomotives Traveling Twice as Fast as Stagecoaches?

The Quarterly Review? Samuel Shaen? Wyndham Harding? Samuel Smiles? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a humorous book containing a collection of terribly inaccurate predictions I encountered the following:

What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?

The book asserted that this claim was made in 1825, but I have not been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This statement was derived from a long passage in an 1825 article about “Canals and Rail-Roads” in “The Quarterly Review” of London. The unnamed author of the article was very skeptical about the claims being made for passenger travel via locomotives. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The gross exaggerations of the powers of the locomotive steam-engine, or, to speak in plain English, the steam-carriage, may delude for a time, but must end in the mortification of those concerned. What, for instance, can be more palpably absurd and ridiculous, than the following paragraph in one of the published proposals of what we should call a hopeless project?

The above passage introduced an excerpt from a report that proposed the construction of a railway between London and Woolwich. The report included a remark about the speed of locomotives on the proposed route:

The number of short coaches running upon this line is 150 per diem. Admitting on the average that these coaches are only half filled, their receipts for passengers alone will be 26,000 a year. As locomotive machines, moving with twice the velocity, and with greater safety, must in a very great degree supersede the coaches, the company will probably obtain from passengers alone, independently of the baggage, an income of £20,000 . . .

The statement under analysis was created via the compression of the text above. Specifically, the two sections shown in boldface were condensed and highlighted. The construction occurred through a multistep process suggested by the citations given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What Can Be More Palpably Absurd Than the Prospect Held Out of Locomotives Traveling Twice as Fast as Stagecoaches?


  1. 1825, The Quarterly Review, Volume 31, Number 62, Article V: Canals and Rail-Roads, Start Page 349, Quote Page 361, John Murray, London. (Google Books Full View) link