It is now already a year that the locomotive has been rolling over the St. Gothard road, crossing at a flash the distance separating Basle from Milan, and passing rapidly from the dark and damp defiles of German Switzerland into the sun lit plains of Lombardy. Our neighbors uproariously fêted the opening of this great international artery, which they consider as their personal and exclusive work, as well from a technical point of view as from that of the economic result that they had proposed to attain - the creation of a road which, in the words of Bismarck, "glorifies no other nation." As regards the piercing of the Gothard, the initiative does, in fact, belong by good right to the powerful "Iron Chancellor," so we have never dreamed of robbing Germany of the glory (and it is a true glory) of having created the second of the great transalpine routes, that open to European products a new gate to the Oriental world. It seems to us, however, that in the noisy concert of acclamations that echoed during the days of the fêtes over the inauguration of the line, a less modest place might have been made for those who, with invincible tenacity and rare talent, directed the technical part of the work, and especially those 15 kilometers of colossal boring - the great St. Gothard Tunnel, which ranks in the history of great public works side by side with the piercing of the Frejus, and the marvelous digging of Suez and Panama.
We recall just now the names of those who, during nearly ten years, have contributed with entire disinterestedness to the completion of this colossal work. Over all stands a figure of very peculiar originality - that of M. Louis Favre, the general contractor of the great tunnel, whose name will remain attached to the creation of this work through the Helvetian Alps, like that of Sommeiller to the great tunnel of the Frejus, and that of De Lesseps to the artificial straits that henceforward join the oceans. Having myself had the honor of occupying the position of general secretary of the enterprise under consideration, I have been enabled to make a close acquaintance with the man who was so remarkable in all respects, and who, after passing his entire life in great public works, died like a soldier on the field of honor - in the depths of the tunnel.
|LOUIS FAVRE.||THE DOWNFALL OF THE TITANS, CONQUERED BY THE GENIUS OF MAN. (Monument at Turin to Commemorate the Tunneling of the Alps.)|
I saw Favre, for the first time, in Geneva, in 1872, a few days after he had assumed the responsibility of undertaking the great work. He had been living since the war on his magnificent Plongeon estate, on the right bank of the lake. There was no need of dancing attendance in order to reach the contractor of the greatest work that has been accomplished up to the present time, for M. Favre was easy of access. We had scarcely passed five minutes together than we we were conversing as we often did later after an acquaintance of six years. After making known to him the object of my visit, the desire of being numbered among the personnel of his enterprise, the conversation quickly took that turn of mirthfulness that was at the bottom of Favre's character. "This is the first time," said he to me, laughing, "that I ever worked with Germans, and I had not yet struck the first blow of the pick on the Gothard when they began to quibble about our contract of the 8th of last August. Ah! that agreement of August 8th! How I had to change and re-change it, later on. If this thing continues, we shall have a pretty quarrel, considering that I do not understand a word of the multiple interpretations of their charabia. I ought to have mistrusted this.
But you see I have remained inactive during the whole of this unfortunate war. I was not made for promenading in the paths of a garden, and I should have died of chagrin if such inaction had had to be prolonged. When one lives, as I have, for thirty years around lumber yards, it is difficult to accustom one's self to the sedentary and secluded life that I have led here for nearly two years."
As he said, with just pride, Louis Favre had, indeed, before becoming the first contractor of public works in the world, lived for a long time in lumber yards. The years that so many other better instructed but less learned persons, who were afterward to gladly accept his authority, had given up to their studies, Favre had passed in the humble shop of his father, a carpenter at Chêne, a small village at a half league from Geneva. It soon becoming somewhat irksome for him in the village, he left the paternal workbench to start on what is called the "tour of France." He was then eighteen years of age. Three years afterward, he was undertaking small works. It was not long ere he was remarked by the engineers conducting the latter, and he was soon called to give his advice on all difficult questions. Between times, Favre had courageously studied the principal bases of such sciences as were to be useful to him. In the evening, he made up at the public school what was lacking in his early instruction; not that he hoped to make a complete study for an engineer, but only to learn the indispensable. He was, before all things, a practical man, who made up for the enforced insufficiency of his technical knowledge by a coup d'oeil of surprising accuracy.
Here it may be said to me that the piercing of the great St. Gothard Tunnel was accompanied by considerable loss. That is true, but it must be recalled also that this colossal work was accomplished amid the most insurmountable difficulties which ever presented themselves. In spite of this, the cost of the tunnel per running foot was also a third less than that of the great Mont Cenis Tunnel.
When Favre undertook the St. Gothard, he already reckoned to his credit numerous victories in the domain of public works, especially in the construction of subterranean ones. The majority of tunnels of any length which, since the beginning of the establishment of railways, have been considered as works of some proportions (the Blaisy Tunnel, for instance), were executed by him, in addition to other open air works. So Favre reached the St. Gothard full of hope. The battle with the colossus did not displease him, and his courage and his confidence in the success of the work seemed to increase in measure as the circumstances surrounding the boring became more difficult. In the presence of the terrible inundation of the gallery of Airolo and the falling of aquiferous rocks, creating in the subterranean work so desperate a situation that a large number of very experienced engineers almost advised the abandonment of the works, Favre remained impassive. Amid the general apprehension, which, it may be readily comprehended, was felt in such a situation he made his confident and cheerful voice heard, reviving the ardor of all, and speaking disdainfully of "that insignificant Gothard, which would come out all right." The personnel of the enterprise were not the only ones, however, who were uneasy over the constantly occurring difficulties in the way of the work, for the company itself and the Swiss Federal Council made known to Favre their fears that the execution of the work would be delayed.