The Lessons of Nature
Samuel Smiles shows us two great achievements inspired by two tiny creatures.
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The Lessons of Nature

From ‘Self-Help, with illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

Scottish motivational writer Samuel Smiles is talking about the importance of noticing what we see, and gives two notable examples of a time when Nature has been mankind’s teacher.

WHILE Captain (afterwards Sir Samuel) Brown was occupied in studying the construction of bridges, with the view of contriving one of a cheap description to be thrown across the Tweed, near which he lived, he was walking in his garden one dewy autumn morning, when he saw a tiny spider’s net suspended across his path.

The idea immediately occurred to him, that a bridge of iron ropes or chains might be constructed in like manner, and the result was the invention of his Suspension Bridge.*

Sir Isambard Brunel took his first lessons in forming the Thames Tunnel from the tiny shipworm.*

He saw how the little creature perforated the wood with its well-armed head, first in one direction and then in another, till the archway was complete, and then daubed over the roof and sides with a kind of varnish; and by copying this work exactly on a large scale, Brunel was at length enabled to construct his shield and accomplish his great engineering work.

* The Union Bridge, the first vehicular suspension bridge in Britain, crossing the River Tweed from Horncliffe, Northumberland, England to Fishwick, Berwickshire, Scotland. Opened in 1820, it was the longest wrought-iron bridge of its kind in the world, at 449ft.

** Connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping at a depth of 75 feet, and 1,300 feet long. It was the world’s first tunnel beneath a navigable river. Note that this is Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, father of the more famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel. (Smiles called Brunel ‘Isambert’; ‘Isambard’ is the more usual spelling, and has been used here instead.)

From ‘Self-Help, with illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

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Grammar & Composition

Based on school textbooks used in Grammar Schools and Secondary Moderns from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Picture: © RHaworth, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
Looking south towards England from Berwickshire in Scotland, with Captain Samuel Brown’s Union Suspension Bridge (1820) stretching across the River Tweed. The design was inspired by Brown’s admiration for a spider’s web.
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By Samuel Smiles
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By Samuel Smiles
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