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Even the horse is stripped of his harness, and finds a fleet fire-horse invoked in his stead: What began as industrial ambition in Britain around the early 1820s quickly became “railway mania” over the next thirty years (Hobsbawm). People concentrated so much of their time and money on what they believed were “dramatically innovative new technologies that promised to make changes in the way we live and work” and “would supposedly permit low-cost shipping of essential goods, such as coal and fuel, that would benefit the poorer classes and thus demonstrate social responsibility to benefit society as a whole” (Landow). Although the railways did succeed in drastically changing people’s lives, and probably for the better, they did not have the predicted effect on the lives of the poor. The result was that “country people tended to stay where they were, in any case, and if they had to go anywhere at all, within reasonable limits, would walk there and walk back, in the same way that, as children, they had walked several miles to school” (Spence). The poor were already used to surviving without railways, and the rather expensive cost of using the railway led them to simply continue with their tried and true ways.

Carlyle’s phrase, “Even the horse is stripped of its harness and finds a fleet fire-horse invoked in his stead” refers to the obsession with railroads and mechanism in general that began in the first half of the nineteenth century. People started replacing horses that sufficed perfectly well for the work they needed to do with the “fire-horse” or train. This shift was not particularly rational because many people, especially the poor, preferred to still use low-tech forms of transportation, e.g. horses, because they better served their purposes. Additionally, Carlyle’s phrasing, which portrays the horse as so suddenly removed that it finds trains “in [its] stead,” further conveys the fact that this transformation from horses to trains, and from traditional, manual labor to all things mechanical, happened at such a rapid pace that people (like the horse) could hardly keep up.


Hobsbawm, Eric. “The Growth of Victorian Railways.” Victorian Web.

Landow, George P. “Railway Mania.” Victorian Web.

Spence, Jeoffry. “The Social Effects of Victorian Railways.” Victorian Web.

Last modified 25 March 2010