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Title: The Boyhood of Great Inventors
Author: Robertson, A. Fraser
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  _The Boyhood of
  Great Inventors_







  DARING DEEDS                      FRANK SAVILLE.
  THE DOG CRUSOE                    R. M. BALLANTYNE.
  THE NUGGET FINDERS                H. ALGER.
  MARTIN RATTLER                    R. M. BALLANTYNE.
  FOR WANT OF A WORD                M. MACKINTOSH.
  FOR ELSIE'S SAKE                  J. CHAPPELL.
  IN SHADOWLAND                     E. EVERETT-GREEN.
  ROB AND MAG                       L. MARSTON.
  THAT BOY TOM                      ISMAY THORN.
  TIM'S TREASURE                    ALICE LANG.
  LITTLE BOOTS                      J. HARRISON.
  GOLD THAT GLITTERS                E. S. HOLT.
  MOLLIE WYNTER                     M. MACKINTOSH.
  MISS PRIMROSE                     AGNES GIBERNE.
  MAB'S BURDENS                     E. BODDY.
  BESIDE ALL WATERS                 M. L. ASTREE.
  HOW THE TIDE TURNED               S. WATSON.
  A WAIF OF THE WAVES               S. WATSON.
  HIRA'S QUEST                      L. MARSTON.



  JOHN SMEATON             9
  JOHN FLAXMAN            30
  JOSIAH WEDGWOOD         83
  JAMES WATT             141



People who have been on a long sea voyage, and have ended by sailing up
the English Channel, tell us how their hearts beat high, after weary
weeks and months at sea, when the cry went up while as yet land was
a mere shadowy outline, "The Eddystone in sight!" For the gleaming
lighthouse standing immovable in the midst of boiling waves and great
mountains of blinding white spray spells "home" to the voyager.

To us the "stone" round which the waters ceaselessly churn and "eddy"
speaks of John Smeaton, the man who built it. The great engineer has
been in his grave now for more than a century, but his most lasting
monument stood for longer than that time firm as a rock.

John Smeaton was born in 1724, near Leeds. Not the Leeds of to-day--a
bustling, smoky centre of manufacture--but a quaint little town hemmed
in by green country fields and lanes. It was in one of these that
Austhorpe Lodge stood, the house of Smeaton's father, a lawyer in Leeds.

We shall yet come across many boyhoods tinged with shadow and struggle,
and are not sorry to find this one happy, fondly tended, and bright with
sunshine. There was no pinch in the lot of the Smeatons, no grinding
poverty that we sometimes find to spur a boy to manhood before his time.
Little John was cradled, as it were, in love. As a child his parents
taught him at home. He was not eager to mix with other boys in outdoor
romp or play, and very early, while yet hardly more than a baby, he
showed a strong love for pulling his toys to pieces to see what they
were made of! Never was he happier than when he could get hold of a
cutting-tool with which to shape toy pumps and houses and windmills.
Another amusement of his babyhood was to divide squares and circles!

As a boy he was rather quiet and thoughtful, though his tongue
straightway loosed the moment anything in the shape of a workman came
to his father's house. He was then always to be found on the spot, and
with eager eyes fixed on their every movement, he would unconsciously
"pose" them with eager questions--such questions as from the boyish
lips made them shake their heads and stare at him dumb and stupid.

And all the time the boyish brain was deeply plotting, and it was ever
that he might "go and do likewise." One day, after watching a millwright
at work, his anxious parents were alarmed by the sight of their boy
perched on the top of the barn fastening a windmill to the roof! At
another time, when a pump was being made in the village, by good luck a
piece of bored lead came in little John's way. He promptly set to work
and made a toy one after the pattern of the big one, and even managed to
make it raise water.

But his greatest childish feat took place on his discovering a
fire-engine being erected at a colliery in the village to pump the water
out of the mine. He was constantly on the spot, eagerly watching it as
it slowly progressed, and quickly his boyish brain grasped the whole.

He went home and began with trembling fingers one day to copy it. His
father had given him an outhouse with bench and tools to carry out his
hobby, and soon the engine worked. He looked round to see what he could
use it upon, and espied the fish-pond. So he began to pump out the water
till he had pumped the whole place dry. When his father came home it was
to find an empty pond, and all his fish lying dead at the bottom!

And now John had to leave his beloved workshop for school in Leeds.
And there it seemed as if the boy showed up quite a different side of
himself. The bright, eager alertness that marked him at home or with the
workmen about Austhorpe was gone. He was quiet with the boys--out of his
element. He did not care for their rough play. He was like a fish out of
water. Silent, shy, even stupid--the boys nicknamed him "Fooley

But though he might be dull at school, the boy's real education was
surely going on at home among his pumps and model engines, his lathes
and chisels.

The boyish hands had begun to do that which all through life threw over
him a very spell of fascination--_to construct_--to build up. The baby
fingers were learning how to use tools in a way that was to give him
one day, long years after, a skill that would place him on the very
top of the ladder. And all the time the young mind was pondering great
mechanical principles that were by-and-by to make the name of John
Smeaton famed throughout the world. So it was not to games and boyish
play that he gave his spare moments, but to his workshop. When he was
fifteen he could use his turning-lathe to turn wood and ivory. When he
was eighteen he could handle tools as deftly and cleverly as any workman
who all his life had known no other trade.

When he was sixteen he left school and took his place in his father's
office, and tried to bring his mind to look forward to law as his
life-work. He worked conscientiously day after day, coming home at
evening to spend half the night in working--making--constructing things.
He had all the instincts of a born mechanic. It was almost as if he
could not help it.

When his father sent him to London to study law, the boy tried again
to stifle his longings, and to set himself to carry out his father's
wishes. But strive and struggle as he would, it was impossible to crush
the desire of his heart. And so one day he sat down and wrote to his
father that he could go on with law no longer. Nothing except to be a
mechanic would satisfy him. His father, deeply disappointed though he
was, quietly made up his mind to what could not be helped, and wrote to
John that he must make his own choice.

The boy was delighted. He had chosen what was then the work of a common
labourer, with a labourer's wages. The term Civil Engineer was unknown.
With a heart beating high with hope he went off and engaged himself
to a philosophical instrument-maker--a man who made instruments for
navigation and astronomy. With him he worked steadily--eager to improve
the instruments--eager to improve himself--so eager, indeed, that he
divided out his time so as to make the most of it: so much for reading,
so much for experiments, so much for business, and so much for rest and

And so on the threshold of manhood--having got, as it were, "a free
hand"--he made great strides onward. He may not have done much business
at the time, but he read papers before the Royal Society, and he kept
open a keen, mechanical eye for everything--from minute, delicate
instruments to the building of canals and bridges and waterworks. He
thought no trouble too great to take if so it made him thorough. He set
himself to study French and Italian, so as to read the works in these
languages on mechanical subjects, and he even set off to Holland--that
land of dykes and harbours and docks--that he might examine them for

And while he looked about him, always at the same time busy with the
work that lay nearest to his hand, the great work of his life was
drawing close to his door.

Many years before Smeaton lived, England was in the custom of lighting
up her rocky headlands with lights or beacons. First came "the candle in
the cottage window" to light the sailor husband home, then stacks of
blazing wood, piles of coal, oil, torches, pitch-pots. Guided by these
flaring lights in the darkness, men and vessels plying round our coast
were saved from shipwreck and death. Sometimes these beacons, flaming
high from their pinnacles, warned the people inland that war was
expected, the country was in danger of being invaded, or that pirates
were about to swoop down upon them. At other times _false_ lights were
shown by men known as "wreckers," and homeward-bound vessels, rich in
goods and human souls, were dashed upon the rocks. So our coasts were
lighted up in those old days, but it happened at times that the pitch
would become drenched and drowned, the wood and coal fires would spurt
up for a space and then drop down and fade. Things were uncertain. It
did not matter, perhaps, greatly, as long as England's commerce by sea
was small, but when our trade with foreign lands began to grow, there
grew, too, the question how best to light our rocky coasts and docks and
headlands. So an order of monks--the Brethren of Trinity House--was
made, and these prayed for the safety of the sailors, and later looked
to the lighting of the coast.

Eddystone rock we can easily find on the map, a low, black reef lying
S.S.W. of Plymouth, a place of lurking danger as well for ships cruising
up and down the Channel as for those coming into Plymouth harbour.
In the days of Smeaton, and for some time earlier, the way in which
lighthouses were built was for a private man to go to the owner and say,
"I will build a lighthouse on that rock if you will let me." If his
offer were accepted and he carried out the work he had then the right to
levy dues on the ships that passed, or, in other words, to make them
pay toll. In this way he sometimes collected quite a large income.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century a man called Winstanley
undertook to build a lighthouse on Eddystone. He drew out plans and
started on the work, and it was no light work. The base of the rock was
narrow and sloping. It was hard to make the foundations fast, for winds
and waves had a way of rising suddenly, and the whole of the work would
be drowned for the time, and perhaps many of the materials swept away.
But by dint of waiting patiently for fine weather and smooth water
the building was at last finished. It was made of wood, rather in an
ornamental style, and had many projections. It took four years in the
building, for although in other parts of the Channel the waters might be
smooth enough, yet round the Eddystone they were almost sure to seethe
and foam. For several seasons the building stood.

"I wish," exclaimed the builder one day, elated that his work had turned
out so well, "that I might be here in the fiercest storm, just to see it

After it had stood some three years from its finish Winstanley went out
one day to see to some repairs. He remained on the rock overnight, and
during the night his wish, though hardly as he would have had it, was
fulfilled. A gale and storm terrific in their fury burst overhead and
broke along the English coast. With the first streak of dawn an anxious
people looked from shore to see how it fared with the lighthouse. Not a
trace of it remained. Not a speck was to be seen on the waters. It and
its maker had been utterly swept away!

Next came a man called Rudyerd, who volunteered to build a lighthouse
that would stand. He pondered the last, and he came to the conclusion
that it had failed in form. He determined to alter that. So he made
a long, high column in the shape of a cone, with no ornaments, no
projections jutting out to catch the wind, and at the end of four years
the thing was finished--a wooden building coated over with oakum and

For a time all went seemingly well. It held four rooms, one above the
other. The lantern was lit by candles. Years went on, and still it
stood defying the winds and storms for half a century. There were two
light-keepers, who snuffed the candles overnight, sitting up for four
hours at a time. One of these men fell ill and died. A storm was raging
at the time. No help could come to his companion, and so through a long
month he kept the body, afraid to throw it into the sea, in case he
should be thought a murderer.

At last help came from shore, but the loneliness and horror had told so
terribly upon the remaining man that ever afterwards three men were
employed to keep the light burning, in case of one falling ill or dying.

But in spite of its long standing there was a hidden flaw in the
lighthouse. It was inflammable--capable of catching fire. One day--no
one could quite tell how it happened, it might be the flame had dried
and scorched the timber. At any rate, a man going in to snuff the
candles found that fire had broken out. It wanted but a few minutes till
the place was in flames. The men rushed below, while a perfect rain of
beams and burning lead fell in showers about their heads. Seeing the
blaze from the shore a boat put off with all speed. When it reached the
rock it found the men, not on the rock, but crouching beneath a ledge,
dripping and half dead, and with just enough life in them to enable them
to catch the rope thrown to them, for it was too rough for the boat to
reach the rock. And so they were towed on board.

And now the third attempt at the lighthouse was to be made by John

"Thou art the man to do it," were the words of the letter asking him to
undertake the work. And so Smeaton was launched on that which was to
make his name famous.

The first step he took was to get and study the plans of the former men.
To succeed he had first to find out where the others had failed.

The first building had failed in weight. The second had not been
fire-proof. And so he decided to make his lighthouse of stone. People
when they heard of it called out that it was a wild project. It could
not be done. "Nothing but wood could possibly stand on the Eddystone."
But Smeaton was in no way moved or cast down. What he made he wanted to
stand, and not to last for a few years merely; and so of stone he
determined it should be.

He began to draw out the design. He kept to the shape of Rudyerd's--the
long cone-like column. He made the diameter of the foundation broader.
He planned the locking and bonding and dovetailing of the stones--each
to each, and all to the centre. When this was all carefully thought and
made out he started from London for Plymouth. He was _six days_ on the
journey owing to the "badness of the roads."

On the 2nd of April he set sail for the rock, but winds and waves beat
so vehemently that he found it impossible to land. All he could do was
to view the low, treacherous black thing on which he was to build his
house of stone. Back he went three days later, and for the first time
he stood on Eddystone, but only for a couple of hours. There was almost
nothing to be seen, only one or two iron branches left from the wrecks
of the former wooden buildings. On the third attempt he made he could
not even see the rock. Spray and foam hid it entirely from view. In
the same way his fourth and fifth visits failed, but his sixth was
successful, and he landed at low water, and in the stillness of the
evening made his first measurements.

"I went on with my business till nine in the evening," he wrote, "having
worked an hour by candlelight."

Again and again he tried to get a landing. Sometimes he managed it, at
others it was impossible. After having spent fifteen hours in all on the
rock he went back to London, and with his own expert hands made a model.
The work took him two months in all, and that proficiency that he had
learned as a boy in his little workshop at Austhorpe stood him in good
stead now. After this he set out for Plymouth again. No detail of his
work was too small for him to attend to himself. He visited the quarries
where the stones were to be hewn. He carefully chose the kind of cement
that was to bind them together; the workmen, the work-yards, the ships
that were to carry the stones to the rock. Each and all passed under his

It was a great day when, in August, 1756, he and his men started for
Eddystone, and the master fixed the centre and laid down the lines. Now
the work might be said to be fairly begun. But was ever work so often
broken in upon? Winds and waves are not to be counted on--least of all
about the stormy Eddystone, for often though the water is calm and
smooth in other places, it smothers in foam the low black reef.

There were times when the workmen could work as long as six hours at a
stretch, going on eagerly by torchlight if necessary. Again it would
happen they could not work more than two hours out of the twenty-four.
Time was precious, and time was grievously taken up in going to and
from Plymouth, and so Smeaton arranged that a "buss"--a fishing-vessel
with two masts and a cabin at either end--should ride at anchor near the
scene of work, with provisions and other necessaries.

But here, again, it was hard to plan ahead. One day a mighty storm
arose. The men could not work. Their yawl broke from its moorings. They
could neither send to shore, nor could they get help. But they must eat.
Days passed, and gradually their store of provisions grew less and less.
By the time relief reached them they were at their last crust.

During the long months of winter when work was out of the question the
time was spent in dressing the stones in the yard on shore. Smeaton
himself saw them laid out in lines and numbered, after which they were
put in order on board ready to be lifted off when the rock was reached,
and easily put in their places. Dangers and difficulties often crowded
thick on the work, enough to daunt a man less dauntless than Smeaton.
One night on the homeward way a big storm arose.

The night was dark, and Smeaton was roused from sleep by the sound of
much stamping and hurrying to and fro overhead. He rushed on deck in
his nightshirt. The helmsman was holding frantically by a rope.

"For God's sake," he shouted when he saw Smeaton and others, "heave hard
at that rope, if you mean to save your lives."

So Smeaton as well as the others laid hold. In the pitchy darkness there
fell on their horror-struck ears the sound of waves breaking on the
_rocks_. The jibsail was blown to pieces. They hastily lowered the
mainsail. The waves dashed over them. But gradually the ship obeyed the
straining helm and rounded off. In anxious fear they lay out to sea.
When morning broke land was nowhere to be seen, and they found
themselves driving towards the Bay of Biscay. For four long days they
were tossed and driven to and fro before they made Plymouth harbour.

One day Smeaton had an accident, which, however, might have been worse
in its effects. He was taking a turn up and down the narrow strip of
rock that was all that afforded a promenade when his foot slipped and he
fell among the rocks. When he got up he thought himself unhurt till a
stinging pain informed him that he had dislocated his thumb. He was
hours from shore--far from a surgeon. Delay meant disablement. So he
took hold of it with his other hand, pulled hard, and it snapped into

But in spite of danger and difficulty and hindrance the great work
went on, though slowly still surely. By the end of the second year the
building had risen thirty-five feet high--out of reach of the heavy dash
and thud of the waves. Gradually one above another rose the rooms for
the light-keepers--their walls twenty-six inches thick to stand against
the fearful onslaught of the wind as it blew up the Channel from the
Atlantic. For in a gale the place shook and the doors slammed and the
windows rattled with such terrific force that the new and unaccustomed
keepers earnestly wished themselves at Land's End or anywhere else, so
that it meant land.

To say that as it neared the finish it was much in the great builder's
thoughts is to draw but a faint picture of how day and night it lay upon
his heart. How when on land the early morning found him out betimes on
the Hoe, at Plymouth, telescope in hand, gazing out to sea. If a storm
raged and the spray flew high for a moment it seemed to his sinking
heart that it was Winstanley's lighthouse over again and that there was
no Eddystone!

Again his heart leaped in gratitude a moment afterwards when the upright
column--strong, firm, immovable--pointing black and clear against the
sky, came to view, and a deep "Thank God!" would burst from his lips.

And now the months flew by and the great work neared its end. Smeaton
himself chose the last details--the iron railings--the glass for the
lantern. In the upper storeroom directly beneath the ceiling he had the
motto carved--"Except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that
build it." And the mason's last work was a "Laus Deo" in stone.

Towards the end Smeaton could not leave it. With his own hands he
fitted the windows in their sashes--fixed the gilt ball on the top--no
easy matter--but he had ever filled the post of danger himself. He
asked no one to put himself where he was not willing too to go. Expert
as any skilled mechanic, he himself gave his great work its finishing
touches. Twenty-four candles in a chandelier formed the light. The
lightning-conductor was fixed--the rooms finished. The magnificent
column towered to seventy feet, the lantern and gilt ball twenty-eight
inches higher, and on October 16th, 1759, the work was done.

Three years later a mighty storm broke along the coast, wrecking docks
and ships and harbours, but the Eddystone stood firm.

And now Smeaton's name was made. Other feats followed. Other triumphs
awaited him--the building of docks and harbours and bridges--but the
thing that men will ever link with his name is the Eddystone. After the
stress and struggle of public life, he went back again to the old home
of his boyhood. He gathered again about him his workshop, his study, his
observatory. And so he worked to the end. He could not help it. He could
not live without his tools.

Great man though he was, his wants were very few and simple. Offers of
riches and magnificence had no power to tempt him, and when he refused a
post abroad which meant wealth and position, the Russian Princess who
offered it exclaimed, in wondering admiration--

"I shall go back to Russia and tell them there is one man who has _not_
his price."

He was happiest in the quiet of his own home. As a boy he had been
rather retiring and thoughtful. As a man he was found the same. Simple,
modest, while he would converse easily on other subjects, it was hardly
possible to get him to talk of self. In this, as well as in his
life-work, "he was indeed a very great man."

He had had a long life of work--hard, incessant toil--from six to sixty,
though it had been work that he had loved. It may be he had overtaxed
his strength, for as age crept on he grew less robust. In his
sixty-eighth year he had a slight stroke. He feared a gradually clouding
brain. "The shadow must lengthen as the sun goes down," he said to
himself. But this distress was spared those dear to him, and with not
much suffering, on the 28th October, 1792, he passed away. They buried
him in the old church of Whitkirk, and raised a tablet to his memory,
naming in it that great work of his that will "convey to distant ages,
as it does to every nation of the globe, the name of its constructor."

The world looks still upon John Smeaton as a wonderful engineer--a great
mechanic--a man who climbed to the top of his profession, and the sound
of whose fame spread over Europe; but he will ever be best remembered by
the light of the Eddystone, that memorial monument that stood firm for
more than a century, sometimes hid in blinding spray, anon gleaming out
clear and steady, a rescuer from shipwreck and death.

Till 1877 storms continued to beat upon it without avail. Then, owing to
the undermining of a portion of the reef, it was thought well to build a
new house on another part of the rock. The old base still stands on the
old place, and the upper rooms have been put on the Hoe at Plymouth.

These are, after all, the best monuments we could have of the builder.
Welded into the stones, it seems to us we can trace, not alone genius
and great mechanical power, but a patience in difficulty, a courage in
danger, and in face of long, wearing months of anxiety. It is these,
perhaps, more than all else, for which we honour the name of Smeaton.


Had we passed along one of the poorer streets of the city of London some
150 years ago, we might have chanced on a humble shop displaying in the
window plaster-casts and figures in clay, and had we lifted the latch
and entered, in the cramped space behind the counter we should have
found the child who was one day to become England's greatest sculptor,
John Flaxman.

A ricketty, weakly baby in a high stuffed child's chair, so that his
little pale face might be on a level with the counter; the sweet dreamy
eyes looked out on the world, all unthinking that a day was coming when
the fame of his name would reach wherever men knew and loved his art.

Born in the city of York in 1755, a few months before the Flaxmans
settled in London, there were times when his father and mother hardly
believed they would be able to "rear" the delicate child. Attacks of
illness and weakness were common to him. Indeed, one day he was seized
with a fit of gasping so severe that the breath seemed to leave his
body, and they even laid him out for dead, but he revived, and his
breath came again, and by-and-by he even grew. Few amusements, no
childish games were open to the little cripple. The green fields, the
blue of the country skies were to him things unknown. The dingy four
walls of the narrow cramped shop had to serve him instead. But day by
day he grew quick to note the familiar beauty of his father's casts. He
came to see the shape of these white things with the eye of the poet and
the artist. There came into his mind the strong desire to copy, inborn
in most children, and the baby fingers set to work to mould, and
fashion, and make some likeness--if even a dim one--to those of his
father's models. In these old days gentlemen were accustomed to wear
bunches of seals dangling from their watch-chains, and the child used to
keep a stock of wax, and when he thought a customer seemed kind, he
would summon courage to ask him to let him take the impression on the
soft wax.

In little John's early years, when he was as yet a baby of five, a great
ceremony took place in London, the coronation of King George III.
Rumour went that to celebrate the great event there was to be a
coronation medal struck, and that hundreds of these were to be thrown to
the crowd. The cripple child in the dingy side street of the great city
set his little heart on possessing one of these treasures, and begged
his father to get him one. But Flaxman was not successful. On the way
home, with his mind full of his disappointment, his eye happened to
light on a plated button on the pavement, stamped with a horse and
jockey. He picked it up. Would he disappoint his little son, or deceive
him? He decided on deceiving him, and gave the eager and expectant child
the button. The boy received the trophy in wonderment. He was glad to
get it, but he remarked that it seemed a strange medal for a coronation!

Customers who came to Flaxman's house could hardly help noticing the
child who sat behind the counter, the big head on the lame body, the
high shoulders, the beautiful pure eyes, the sensitive, proud face. They
spoke to him, and they found him no common child.

One day, by good luck, when little John was hardly more than seven, a
customer, a Mr. Matthew, a clergyman, came to Flaxman's shop. Writing
of that visit, when it had become a memory and the child a great man,
Mr. Matthew says--

"I went to the shop of old Flaxman to have a figure repaired, and whilst
I was standing there I heard a child cough behind the counter. I looked
over, and there I saw a little boy seated on a small chair, with a large
chair before him, on which lay a book he was reading. His fine eyes and
beautiful forehead interested me, and I said, 'What book is that?' He
raised himself on his crutches, bowed, and said, 'Sir, it is a Latin
book, and I am trying to learn it.'

"'Aye, indeed!' I answered. 'You are a fine boy, but this is not the
proper book. I will bring you a right one to-morrow.'

"I did as I promised, and the acquaintance thus casually begun ripened
into one of the best friendships of my life."

It is a picture! The child of seven trying patiently to make out his
Latin book--his weakly frame on one chair, the unwieldy volume spread
out before him on another. The beautiful eyes and brow, the winning
smile, and the long, brown hair curling to the shoulders.

But the wheel of his fortune seemed as if it had got a turn. Mr.
Matthew was as good as his word, and brought him the promised book, and
more followed. Translations of old Greek fables and stories from Homer
that stirred the imagination of the boy. Then followed the fascinating
adventures of Don Quixote. These fired his brain. How great and how
heroic it seemed to him to rescue maidens in distress, to set the
wrongs of the world right. So strong a hold did the thought take of the
imagination of the child that one day, hobbling on his little crutches,
he started off for Hyde Park in the hope that he might perchance find
some forlorn maiden in need of his protection! But no old-world lady of
the kind did he happen on among the thousands of teeming London--either
in the Park or Kensington Gardens--and he had to come home cast down and

Meantime he strove and worked and laboured in his own childish way--with
perhaps no great present results--receiving now and then even a check
from which the sensitive mind recoiled, as when one day he showed an
artist a drawing of a human eye, to be met with the quizzical question,
"Is that an oyster?" Perhaps more secretly after that, but still as
perseveringly as ever, he worked.

Long years after, a friend gazing on these early works was struck with
proofs of his diligence as a child, and asked him how he had managed to
do them.

"Sir," Flaxman answered, "we are never too young to learn what is
useful, or too old to grow wise and good."

When he was about ten years old a better gift than any fortune could
bestow was granted to him. The feebleness of childhood seemed to leave
him. The sickly frame seemed suddenly to knit itself together. The
weakly limbs gradually strengthened, and the boy was able to throw away
his crutches.

No need now to sit solitary in the cramped little shop behind the
counter, dreaming lonely day-dreams and fashioning his models all by
himself. With new strength a new life was opening up to him--or rather
the old life grew day by day transformed and beautified.

It was Mrs. Matthew, the wife of his friend the clergyman, who first
drew the boy from his life of loneliness. She was touched and interested
in him, and she asked him to her house. He went and he went again.
He met there men who fired his smouldering longing one day to be a
sculptor--to do some great thing in the world of art. Mrs. Matthew
had many friends among such. At other times he spent evenings not
less delightful when she herself read aloud from Virgil and Homer
soul-stirring tales of ancient heroes--and the boy sat by drinking in
the poetry while he tried with eager, untaught fingers to draw some of
the passages that took his fancy. Again she would lay aside her book and
talk to him of the wonders of sculpture, while there sprang up in his
heart a great longing amounting almost to a passion.

No wonder these were golden hours, full of pleasure to young John, and
looked back upon many a time in after years as among the happiest times
of his life.

A gentleman, seeing some of these boyish attempts, gave the boy an order
for a set of drawings, and by and by more orders followed.

When he was eleven years old he left the privacy and quiet of the little
side eddy of the stream of life in which he had been living and struck
out, as it were, into the mid-stream. That year he won a prize from the
Society of Arts for models of figures in clay. Two years later he was
again successful. What we know as the Royal Academy then first came into
being, and when it was in its second year, and when Flaxman was only
fifteen years old, he exhibited models there. Step by step, small steps
at first, he was entering on the beginning of that which for long had
been the desire of his heart. In the same year he entered as an Academy
student, and won the silver medal. People already were beginning to
acknowledge his outstanding ability. Rewards, prizes came upon him one
by one. The boy's outlook was beginning to be very bright, and his heart
was beginning to beat high with hope, when just as he had reached the
age of sixteen he got an unexpected check.

He made up his mind to try for the gold medal--the highest reward of
merit--and among all the students he was generally allowed to have the
best chance. Hardly a fellow-student but felt sure that he would get
it. "Flaxman! Flaxman!" they cried almost unanimously, for they were
strongly impressed with the skill and ability of the grave, reserved
boy. Speaking of this time in later years Flaxman said--

"I had made up my mind that I was to win.... It was given by Reynolds to
Engleheart. I burst into tears. This sharp lesson humbled my conceit,
and I determined to redouble my exertions...."

May he perhaps have over-estimated his own skill? Years after he said of

"I was the most conceited artist of the day." And yet where another
might have been downcast he refused to be discouraged. He was upheld
by a strong and silent sense of power within him. He went home to his
father, and he said, "Give me time, and I will yet produce works which
the Academy will be proud to acknowledge."

Engleheart, the winner of the medal, was never heard of in later life,
while the loser made for himself a name that afterwards "waxed wide."

Now he worked harder than ever. He studied, he exhibited, he moulded, he
designed the figure for a statue of Alexander the Great, which brought
him some fame. But his father could not keep him, and he was driven
to look about and bethink himself how he could keep himself. At this
time--the most needy, perhaps, of his life--a door seemed to open to
him. He fell in with the great Staffordshire potter, Josiah Wedgwood,
and Wedgwood, with that keen eye of his ever on the outlook to discover
talent, instantly recognised it in the boy.

A great time was beginning for pottery. For ages hideous things had
adorned people's houses and tables till Wedgwood arose, and there
entered his great mind the idea of making common things beautiful, of
giving people something to look at, even at their meals, that would
raise their tastes and be a sort of education. After Wedgwood discovered
young Flaxman he gave him some orders. The boy threw his whole soul into
the work. Not that it was such work as always showed the artist at his
best. The sculptor had first to make the model in wax. Then a mould was
taken of this, and into this the potter's stuff, soft as dough, was
carefully pressed. The thing was not finished yet. It remained for it
still to be fired and polished, and so it is not wonderful if some of
the delicacy and finish of the first design may have been occasionally

But with Flaxman's work Wedgwood was satisfied, and while he worked hard
for him he paid him handsomely. It was not the sort of thing to bring
him name and fame, but there was always the need to live to be faced,
and he bravely took what offered and was thankful. And by living simply
and saving where he could, he managed to keep himself by what he made.
He faced this time of drudgery quietly and patiently, bringing to bear
upon its hardships something of that serene spirit that belonged to him
all through life.

He gave to Wedgwood, as far as in him lay, of his best. Models of the
four seasons, models of the ancient gods and goddesses--those deities
whose stories were familiar to him from his childhood, Juno, Jupiter,
Minerva, Apollo--models of vases. And besides these, chimney-pieces,
plaques, candlesticks, inkstands, anything and everything, for Wedgwood
held that a common teapot or a jug might be still a thing of beauty. For
the models of the ancient gods he would get perhaps 10_s._ each, and for
a pair of vases as much as £3 3_s._

Some of these were so exquisitely done that Wedgwood said more than
once, "It really hurts me to think of parting with these gems."

Long years afterwards, when he had reached the top of the tree, Flaxman
used to find endless pleasure in talking of these humble labours.

And all this time he was leading a very quiet life. That strong thirst
for knowledge that had always been his, spurred him on to learn all
he could. So during the day he worked at casts and models, and in
the evenings he sketched or turned to his beloved poets. Either he
preferred the old Greek poets' company to that of living friends, or
it might be that the slight deformity that was his through life--the
high shoulders, the sidling gait--left him shy and sensitive, and in
a measure inclined to creep into his shell.

Looking over the huge portfolio of Flaxman's drawings that one can
still see to-day, it is easy to discover where he went for most of his
subjects. The poets came in for their share, and also history and
portraits, but his great delight was to produce scenes from the Bible
and the _Pilgrim's Progress_, "The Marys at the Sepulchre," "The Flight
into Egypt," "The Angels round the Cradle of Christ."

But although he was getting to be known among men of talent he was still
poor and struggling. It is proof enough of this for us to read how at
this time he made his busts half life-size and of clay, whereas had he
been rich they would surely have been full-size and of marble. About
this time he began to talk of what had been with him till now a secret
longing. It was to see Rome. The desire had been long growing in his
heart. To Rome sculptors and painters flock, for it is the great city of
sculpture and painting, and to a sculptor it is as if his education were
unfinished, so long as his eyes have not feasted on those beautiful
examples of art.

"If I remain here," he said sadly, "I shall be accused of ignorance
concerning those noble works of art which are to the sculptor what
learning is to a man of genius."

About this time he took what seemed a foolish step, looking alone to the
progress of his art. He married. Sir Joshua, the President of the Royal
Academy, who had _not_ given him the gold medal, met him in the street
one day and stopped him. "Ha! Flaxman," he said, "I have heard that you
have married. I tell you you are ruined for an artist. You cannot now go
to Rome to study the great sculptors of antiquity."

Young Flaxman went home downcast. Not to go to Rome! Not to realise his
boyhood's golden dreams and his life's ambition!

He told his wife what had happened. She met him with the brave reply,
"You will e'en go to Rome and I will accompany you. We must work and

And now for the next five weary years this brave young couple put
their shoulders to the wheel. She kept house and he worked--harder
than ever--for Wedgwood chiefly--toiling for long hours, but upheld
all the time by the thought of the goal to which he was straining.
That journey to Rome!--the very thought of it made all hardship easy.
He turned out much beautiful work for Wedgwood at this time. Groups of
children--romping, skipping, playing "blind man's buff."

Nothing that meant making money came amiss to him. He even collected
what was known as "watch rates" for the parish of St. Anne's, and might
have been seen going about with an ink-bottle in his buttonhole.

Often the desires of our heart tarry long in coming to us. This was
among the times of hardest work and trial in all Flaxman's life, and he
came out of it well. At the end of the five years the needed money was

And now, while the great event of his life was drawing near, his boyhood
had left him, and he was entering on the work of the man. Already he had
gained some fame in London. The newspapers took notice of his going.

"We understand that Flaxman the sculptor is about to leave his modest
mansion in Wardour Street for Rome."

And now a very feast of delight awaited him. With his arrival in Rome,
what wonders opened to his view, what grandeur and sublimity in the
examples of ancient art! What skill and magnificence and luxuriance he
saw in the churches, what wealth of creation on their walls and windows
and cupolas, what sculpture, what painting! It was as if an enchanted
world had suddenly spread itself out before his eyes.

Gradually it came to be known that Flaxman had arrived, and there
gathered about him men of taste and culture--rich men many of them--men
of position. But the great sculptor's ways were just the simple ones of
old. He was not easily affected by the great of the world. He was
always his manly simple self to rich and poor alike. He adopted no more
luxurious ways of living with his days of prosperity. He prized money
little, just as a something in exchange for which he could get food and
clothing, or with which he might help the poor and suffering. The fine
character of the boy seemed to have expanded into fuller beauty in the

After his stay in Rome he returned to London, his spirit, one could
imagine, bathed in a very inspiration from all he had seen and heard. He
came back to his native land with a name made, and quietly set about
getting a house, a studio, assistants, workmen, models.

He executed a statue of Lord Mansfield, for which he was paid £2,500.
Prices were indeed altered from the old days, in which he counted
himself well paid with ten shillings for the model of a goddess!

"This little man cuts us all out," said one generous sculptor to
another, willing to acknowledge Flaxman's great superiority. Honours now
flowed in upon him. He was made an Associate of the Royal Academy. He
was given the Professorship of the Chair of Sculpture. At his first
lecture he was enthusiastically cheered. He had climbed to the highest
height of his art. It almost seemed as if no honour remained to be
bestowed. He was surrounded by fame and applause, but he was in no wise
uplifted. So the years went on in the delight of the work he loved.

But, unexpectedly and all unknown to his friends, his life was drawing
to a close. In the winter of 1826 he caught a cold, seeming for a time
to be slightly, though not seriously, ailing. In the beginning of
December he grew much worse, but he would not go to bed.

"When I lie I cannot breathe," he said. So, sitting up to the end, and
with scarce a struggle, he passed away on the 7th of December.

They buried him quietly in the churchyard of St. Giles-in-the-Fields.
There was no great publicity, no large concourse of people. Just a few
friends, a few artists--the greatest--were there, men who in tremulous,
hushed voices said to each other they "had lost something greater and
dearer than they should see again."

Turning from the ending of his life, we cannot but feel that we are
turning from the record of a man who has lived it well.

An enthusiastic admirer has said, "He was a remarkable mixture of
simplicity and genius--were you to try any other ingredients you would
scarcely form so glorious a creature." And we hardly think he was far

We can see very clearly the fine simplicity of his nature in his
treatment of his workmen. They were to him rather friends than servants.
They in their turn repaid him with a warm and devoted affection, calling
him "the best master God ever made."

To the end, as well in time of difficulty and of toil as in time of
triumph, the man retained very much those qualities that had drawn out
people's love for him in boyhood, the kindly word from the customer in
the shop behind the counter. The world offered him of its best, as it
has a way of doing to those who do well for themselves, but it had
no power to draw him from his work and the simplicity of his simple
home-life. It was only and always to that which is highest and best that
he gave of his genius. That noble mind of his could stoop to nothing
less. In churches all over England are to be found beautiful creations
of his. In him were at once goodness and genius linked together.

"If ever purity visited this earth," someone has said, "it remained with


Amid the wild beautiful scenery of Cornwall, where the waters of the
Atlantic wash our English shores, was born in the winter of 1778 the
greatest chemist England has ever seen. We read in our childish
geography books that for being the birthplace of Humphrey Davy the town
of Penzance has for long been famous, for the coming into the world of
that man whose name is perhaps best known for the invention of the
Miners' Safety Lamp, that has lit the darkness of our coal mines and
saved hundreds of human lives.

Humphrey was the son of a wood-carver, a man not high up in the world,
but we find him free enough from the straits of poverty that have often
been the cradle of genius, though, indeed, a cradle out of which genius
has had a way of growing to sturdy stalwart manhood. The child from the
outset entered on life with eagerness and enthusiasm, seeming to take
a firm, earnest grip, as it were, even from babyhood. It was this same
vigour of mind that spurred him on all through--in boyhood and manhood
alike--that made him face difficulty with such a brave, dauntless
spirit, and overcome obstacles with never a thought of letting them
overcome him.

He was quick, energetic, and alert, even as a child. When hardly more
than five years old his mother often noticed him with baby fingers
rapidly turning the pages of some book as if he were counting their
number or glancing at the pictures. To her no small astonishment on
questioning him, she found the lisping baby lips could repeat the story.
It was the same through life. Long years after, when he was a great
chemist, making wonderful experiments in his laboratory, he had no
patience with slowness. He would keep several experiments going at
the same time, attending first to one, then to another. If the exact
instrument he wanted were not at hand, he would recklessly break or
alter another to suit his purpose. His impetuous spirit could never
brook delay. With him quickness meant power, and while quick he was also

As a child he specially loved the _Pilgrim's Progress_. The charm of its
word-pictures, its characters fired his quick imagination. And history
too, especially the history of his own country. These two, it may be,
inspired him very early to a love of romance and story, and among the
boys at school in Penzance he was not slow to gain the reputation of
story-teller. Some were tales of fun, others tales of thrilling wonder
and terror, but all flowed easily from the boy's lips and held his
listeners enthralled.

When he was no more than eight years old he would take his stand on a
cart in the middle of the market-place, his boyish figure drawn to its
full height, and there harangue the boys who gathered in little groups
to hear the young orator. At school there was nothing in any way
remarkable about young Humphrey, except, perhaps, that somewhere hid
away within him was the gift of rhyme or the gift of poetry. English
and Latin verse alike came easy to him, and by-and-by his schoolfellows
found out his facility, and they pressed him into their service to
compose valentines and love-letters. But except for this he seemed in
these early years to be nothing more than a happy, healthy English boy,
full of fun and spirits. He would fish off Penzance Pier for grey
mullet, catching more than his companions. He would bait his hooks and
wait till a shoal of these difficult fish were swimming about the bait,
then by a clever jerk of his tackle entangle and capture them. His love
of fishing remained with him all through life--almost to the end. So
strong was it that even as a man he never could conceal his annoyance
if unsuccessful, or if he discovered a friend to have caught a larger
number than he. So keen and ardent was he that he would dress himself in
green that the wily fish might know no difference between him and the
green trees and grassy banks!

In his boyhood we find it difficult to trace any germs of that talent
for experimenting and inventing that distinguished him in later life.
He scooped turnips hollow, and lighted up the insides with candles--but
what boy has not experimented in the same way? He made squibs, or
"thunder-powder," that exploded on a stone with a loud report that
delighted his companions. But there is no trace of an unusual bent of
mind here--just an example of an ardent, eager English boy, full of life
and spirits.

In 1793 he went to school in Truro, not far from Penzance. He was quick,
but that was all--a clever boy, not a prodigy. His master, writing long
years after, when the boy's name had become a household word in England,

"I did not at that time discover any extraordinary abilities."

It must have been a school of the old sort that Mr. Davy had lighted
upon for his son, for the story goes that young Humphrey, at times in
scrapes like other boys, while punishment hung over him, had these
doggrel lines fired off by his master at his head--

    "Now, Master Dávy,
    Now, sir, I háve 'e,
    No one shall save 'e;
    Good Master Dávy."

And with the end of the rhyme down came the flat ruler on the open palm
of the culprit! School, while it may not have done him a great deal of
good, at least did not do him much harm. His own frank, buoyant mind
prevented his being twisted into a cut-and-dried shape, or pressed into
any special mould. Long years after he gave thanks that in those young
days he was left very much to his own bent.

"What I am I have made myself," he said. "I say this without vanity, and
in pure simplicity of heart."

So passed the long, sunshiny days of school-time, and when he was
sixteen he left school finally. After that, for one short, blissful year
he shot and fished and lived chiefly in the open, surrounded by the
beauties of Cornish scenery, for which in after years his heart always
kept a tender memory, when the bustle and din of a city, and the whirl
of city life, had well-nigh drowned for him Nature's softer tones. He
grew then to know familiarly bird and beast, and rock and flower. In
after years, when his life was more fully filled than most men's, a
chance word or reference would seem to waft him a whiff of the sea off
the Cornish shore, and a great longing would seize him for the loved
scenes of his childhood. Then, in the midst of his work, he would take a
hurried run home. During this year of holiday, which he enjoyed with the
whole-heartedness of a careless, happy boy, he collected a number of
birds, and stuffed them with his own hands--and with not a little skill.

Almost to the end of life he kept his love of shooting. As in fishing
he tried to efface himself and deceive the wily fish, so in shooting
he was strangely beset by fear of an accident, and he would study to
make himself as conspicuous as possible in a scarlet hat! Almost at
the end, when his strength was failing, it is pathetic enough to find
him ask to be driven to the field, that he might still fire a shot.

But already over his young life there brooded its first great shadow.
In 1794 his father died. It may have been this which helped to change
young Humphrey from the happy, careless boy to something more serious,
more thoughtful, that fixed his mind on the responsibilities life was
so full of, that helped to turn it from mere sport and pleasure to the
improvement of his mind--to the gaining of knowledge. At any rate, about
this time the boy laid hold of life, and, as a rower in a boat-race
might do, steadied down to his responsibilities.

His mother apprenticed him to a surgeon and apothecary in Penzance, and
straightway with that ardour and enthusiasm that carried him through so
much of his great work in later life, he fell in love with chemistry. He
tried boyish experiments. He used the rudest instruments--anything that
he could lay hands on. Pots, pans, vessels in the surgery--nothing was
safe or sacred from his touch. He filled the house with strange and
hideous odours--he burnt holes in his sister's dresses. When he turned
the garret into a laboratory his good old guardian would exclaim--

"This boy Humphrey is incorrigible! Was there ever so idle a dog? He
will blow us all into the air."

Half an hour later he would proudly and fondly call the boy
"Philosopher," or "Sir Humphrey," as if already his prophetic eye
pierced the future and beheld his greatness.

So he spent much of the day, and in the long summer evenings he would
ramble along the seashore as far as Marazion armed with a hammer with
which to chip off "specimens" from the rocks, for already geology had
thrown over him its peculiar spell. He would end these happy days with
tea at a favourite aunt's. And it was not merely boyish enjoyment these
solitary rambles brought. They and the still small voice of Nature
were telling on him. Gradually they were making and moulding the boy,
approaching now as he was, very near to the threshold of manhood.

Even then, however, he was trying to improve himself. With the roar of
the waves and the howl of the winds in his ears in these lonely walks,
he would declaim to the elements, in the hope of softening a defect in
his voice. This probably arose from his having what is called "no ear."
He had no notion of either time or tune. It used to trouble him much
that he never could keep step in the Volunteer Infantry corps to which
he belonged, and someone tried to teach him "God Save the King," but
without success.

The surgical part of his profession was always disagreeable and
distasteful to the boy, although from no want of courage on his part.
The story goes that one day about this time he was bitten in the leg by
a dog supposed to be mad. No sooner did he realise what had happened to
him than he there and then took a knife and cut the piece right out of
his leg, and then went to the surgery and had the wound cauterised.

His mind was such that it instinctively rose to emergencies and grappled
with anything--a big thing or a little thing. Both were to him alike.
Knowledge was what he wanted. He wanted to know as much as possible, and
he liked to get to the bottom of a difficulty for himself. Into each
new thing that came his way he threw himself with all the ardour and
impetuosity of his nature. Nor was he merely practical and nothing more.
He had that sympathy and delicacy of mind that revelled in communing
with nature. This expressed itself in sonnets and poems--some of which
he wrote when he was only twelve. A great poetic genius once said of

"If Davy had not been the first chemist he would have been the first
poet of his age."

But poetry was not the field in which he was to shine. His genius was
for experiments. He went on eagerly experimenting on anything--heat,
light, air. Anything connected with chemistry drew him as with a magnet.
The first time some real experimenting apparatus found its way to his
hands he could not conceal his delight. Specially did an air-pump charm
him. It was to him as a new and fascinating toy to a child. He kept
working the piston up and down, and would hardly let it go!

And now it seemed as if it were almost time for him to try his wings
in the larger air of the great world. More than one man had come to
Penzance who perhaps gave the boy a foretaste of the delights he was to
know by-and-by as a man in the atmosphere of culture and talent in
which his lot was to be cast. Among these were Josiah Wedgwood, the
Staffordshire Potter, and young Watt, the son of the inventor of the
Condensing Steam Engine.

There was about young Humphrey's outward appearance about this time
nothing specially attractive. He had round shoulders, not a comely face,
and a manner that was in no way remarkable or engaging, but surely the
light of genius must have shone from his eyes!

However, such as he was outwardly, he now prepared to launch away into
the great world. A professor of chemistry in Bristol had heard of his
experiments in light and heat, and proposed to him that he should become
assistant in the Pneumatic Institution there. There was not much money
to be earned by it.

"He must be maintained, but the fund will not furnish a salary from
which a man can lay up anything." So they told him. But was it not his
most direct road to fortune?

Perhaps Humphrey thought so. At any rate, the Penzance surgeon was
prevailed upon to cut short the term of the boy's apprenticeship, "on
account of the singularly promising talents Mr. Davy had displayed."

So Humphrey went out from his native town, and from his home, as many a
young man had gone before him, with a heart beating high with hope, and,
as his young, ardent spirit believed, the world spread out before him.

And certainly a brilliant future was opening to the boy. He turned his
steps to Bristol, throwing himself in his own characteristic way into
his new work.

He made experiments on air and gases, some of these daring and dangerous
enough, and entailing not a little personal risk. But while these things
lay nearest to his heart, he had eye and ear both open for all that was
going forward in his new life. He was so many-sided himself, it was as
if he could not come in contact with anyone without catching some spark
of interest from him--the philosopher, the poet, the physician, the
sportsman. He had something in common with all.

He entered into his work as if body and mind knew no fatigue. If an idea
came into his head he could not rest until he had worked it out. If he
broke down in health, he simply started afresh when he had recovered.

In his spare time he wrote books and pamphlets on chemistry, so that in
writing and experimenting his name came to be known to the scientific
men of the day. And now it seemed as if one step in fame followed
another. Success was crowned by success.

He was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Chemistry to the Royal
Institution in 1801. He had now entered on manhood, and was launched
on the great world of London, having all the ability to carry himself
through. He may have been handicapped with slight flaws of manner. If he
appeared over-confident, it probably was that in reality he was shy and
timid, and attempted to cover these little awkwardnesses. His friends
grieved in secret over the noticeable change, fearing lest with
simplicity of manner he might throw over simplicity of character. But
no man is, after all, perfect, and in spite of this, Davy was rapidly
mounting the ladder of success.

The young chemist soon discovered that his lectures drew crowds,
even created a great and extraordinary sensation. In imagination we
can picture the lecture-room, the crowded audience--all sorts and
conditions, from lovers of science, ladies of fashion, men of rank, to
the threadbare-coated student--eagerly watching the experiments, and all
drinking in his words as the young lecturer, fired with his subject,
animated with all the charm of which he was so complete a master the dry
bones of geology with life and breath, or again brought the study of
chemistry, hitherto unget-at-able and out of reach, down to their
level. The audience hung on his lips spellbound.

The young popular lecturer was caressed and made much of.

"Davy, covered with glory," writes a friend at this time, "dines with me

Soon they made him Professor of Chemistry to the Institution. Promotion
followed promotion, but each year was a spur to greater exertion. Time
would fail to enumerate the steps in his triumphs. A continuous sun
seemed to shine upon him. And his strength seemed equal to all demands.
Money had never been of much account to him. Now, indeed, he might have
had it in abundance had he chosen, by helping forward manufactures with
his scientific knowledge, but that was not his aim. His ambition was
scientific glory.

"To be useful to science and mankind was the pursuit in which he

The years that followed were years full of hard work. In 1812 he was
knighted. It seemed as if almost everything he touched were like a gold
mine which yielded some new treasure to him.

"Science," he said once to a young man anxious to pursue it, "is a harsh
mistress, and repays one poorly." But for him she surely rather had
"full measure pressed down and running over."

And now, when he was about thirty-seven, his thoughts were first turned
to the great triumph of his life, the invention that was to make his
name famous.

There was in England, especially in the north and midland counties, a
great and crying evil--the danger in which our miners and their families
lived, as these brave men daily and hourly carried their lives in their
hands. Constantly the newspapers were filled with terrible accounts of
accidents in our coal-pits--mines exploding, men and boys and horses
being blown to pieces or buried alive--and always from the same
cause--the want of a safety lamp. A great quantity of gas got cooped up,
in spite of contrivances for leading pure air into the murky passages of
the mines, and these gases, directly they came in contact with a naked
flame, exploded. There had been old days in which men worked by a feeble
light borrowed from the phosphorescence of decaying fish-skins or "steel
mills," which gave out fitful gleams or sparks when a piece of flint
was struck against them; but these days had passed, and accidents
multiplied. And though men were startled and shocked when they read of
them, still the wholesale slaughter went on. The gas exploded, bursting
up everything near, killing the miners, erupting great masses of coal
and dust and mangled men and horses. And not only this, but it blew down
the trap-doors, leaving men to die of "after-damp," the more horrible
death of suffocation, because lingering and slow.

To remedy this crying evil Davy bent the whole force of his brilliant
intellect, and after much thought invented the Safety Lamp. He
surrounded the flame of his lamp with wire gauze. The gas entered and
exploded within it, but the explosion did not pass outward.

It was the most glorious triumph of his genius. In 1816 it was adopted.
With his "Davy" in his hand there was now no fear for the miner.

"The highest ambition of my life," he wrote, "has been to deserve the
name of a friend to humanity."

He took out no patent. He wanted no money for it. It was reward enough
for him to see it work.

"If you had patented it," said a friend to him one day, "you might have
been drawing your five or ten thousand a year."

"No, my good friend," was his reply, "I never thought of such a thing.
My sole object was to serve the cause of humanity. It might undoubtedly
enable me to put four horses in my carriage, but what would it avail me
to have it said that Sir Humphrey drives his carriage-and-four?"

"I value it," he said again, "more than anything I ever did."

And now the world's honours waited upon him. In 1818 Government made him
Baronet. In 1820 he was made President of the Royal Society.

But already in the zenith of his triumph, there were small signs that
showed too surely that he was failing. In 1826 he retired from the
Presidentship, and later in the year he was attacked by apoplexy,
followed by paralysis.

"Here I am," he wrote pathetically from Rome, "a ruin among ruins."

And so he began to look death in the face.

"I do not wish to live so far as I am personally concerned," he said,
"but I have views which I could develop--if it please God to save my
life--which would be useful to science and mankind."

Never again, however, was he to return to England. In Rome he had a
second seizure. He had a great longing to reach Geneva, and a few hours
after he arrived, although he appeared at first to rally, he took ill,
and there passed away quietly and peacefully, not merely, as someone has
it, "one of the greatest, but one of the most benevolent and amiable of

They buried him in the little burying-ground at Geneva, the long
procession wending its way to his last resting-place on foot. His widow
erected a tablet to his memory in Westminster Abbey.

He was the greatest chemist of the age; but after all, his best memorial
will abide in the memory of his fellow-men as the inventor of the Safety

To himself his invention brought no small happiness.

"I was never more affected," he said on one occasion, "than by a written
address I received from the working colliers, when I was in the north,
thanking me, on behalf of themselves and their families, for the
preservation of their lives."

His, indeed, is a career of striking brilliancy. He is like some
mountain climber who climbs ever upwards. And we, looking up, seem to
see him leap from one dazzling peak to another. Honours and attainments
were his such as come to few men in this world, but we cannot but feel
that what gave him the greatest joy in life was that he had been enabled
to rescue hundreds of lives, to bring light out of darkness, and cheer
and safety where before there had been uncertainty and death. It is for
this that the name of Humphrey Davy will be blessed by men and women in
the ages still to come.


Perhaps no man has risen out of lower depths of poverty and ignorance
and obscurity to the very top of fame's ladder than Richard Arkwright.
More than 150 years ago, towards the end of December, 1732, there was
born in a house in a humble side street of Preston, a child who was to
leave his stamp, not only on his native town, but on the whole of
England, and indeed on the civilisation of the world.

The son of poor parents, and, like Josiah Wedgwood, the youngest of
thirteen, it may be that that Christmas held even less brightness than
usual for the struggling Arkwrights because of the coming of an extra
mouth to feed. At any rate, if ever child were confronted by the chill
and dreary outlook on a cold world, that child was the baby Richard.

Preston was not, 150 years ago, the Preston of to-day. Then it was
a town with a few thousand inhabitants, "beyond the trading part of
the county," while to-day it is in the very centre of the cotton
manufacture, hiving with crowds of human beings--a great town because
here, in a squalid, insignificant by-street, one bleak December day,
there first saw the light the man who was to "give to England the power
of cotton."

As there was scant enough money for food and clothing in the Arkwright
house, so it followed that for schooling there was none at all. Young
Richard would have stood a poor chance had it not been that his uncle
Richard took pity on the boy growing up in a state of neglect and
ignorance, and taught him to read. In later days he added something to
this small beginning by attending classes in the winter evenings. And so
the early years of his life passed, and in time the boy went out into
the world, poorly and scantily enough armed for its difficult battle.
Long years after he bemoaned his ignorance and want of education when he
felt all the drawbacks, the trammelling, the holding-down of it, when he
realised how it handicapped him in the race of life. And when he was an
old man over fifty, after pressing into the day as many as sixteen
working hours, he would steal an hour from sleep to learn English
grammar and another hour to practise writing and spelling.

But, poorly equipped as young Richard was in most ways, he went out into
life provided with a great brain, and had he known it, that brain was to
open to him a door through which--could he have looked then--he might
have seen stretching away into the years a long vista of triumphs and
successes. The boy began on a very low round of the ladder--a strange
enough beginning for the future maker of the cotton world: he entered
on his career as apprentice to a barber. But, boy as he was, he threw
himself with energy and ardour--these two qualities that made him a
great man later on--into the new business. He took a firm hold of it. He
worked steadily at it for years, having most likely nothing in his mind
higher than the setting up for himself--the becoming some day a master
barber! It was this goal at that time that seemed to him getting on in

So his boyhood sped away, and when his apprenticeship had come to an end
he took the great and important step of setting up for himself. He left
Preston and went to Bolton. Poor indeed must have been his stock of
money at this point in his fortunes. It was no imposing shop he took,
with windows and painted sign, but the smallest and poorest place to be
had. He rented an underground cellar, but his eager spirit was to be
damped neither by poverty nor a dreary outlook. He bent all his powers
on getting customers, and as the first step to this he stuck out a
placard above his cellar door with the scrawled invitation--

    "_Come to the subterraneous barber, he shaves for a penny._"

In the little world of hair-dressing the rude appeal made a small
sensation. Here, as in other businesses, there was competition.
Arkwright shaved for a penny. At this rate the subterraneous barber
would draw away the customers of others! While the underground cellar
would be crowded, their shops would be empty. And so they were forced to
let down their prices, and others besides Arkwright shaved for a penny.

Young Richard, rising one morning, grasped the fact that he was now not
alone in his prices. Others were running him dangerously close. He was
merely one of many now, but with the enterprise that outdid others
by-and-by in the great world of mechanical invention he resolved to
strike out a bold new line. The old placard was taken down and another
printed and set up in its stead.

    "_A clean shave for a halfpenny!_"

But Arkwright was not content to stand still in shaving people's chins
or in anything else. These were the days of wearing wigs, and it struck
him that something was to be made out of wigs, or perukes, as they were
called, and so he gave up his business of shaving in a measure and began
to travel about the country buying and selling human hair. He regularly
attended country fairs and bought the locks and tresses of the young
girls who came there to be hired out to service. In time he grew to
make successful bargains with these, and to add to this he discovered a
chemical dye, with which he dyed the hair and sold it to wig-makers, and
by-and-by "Arkwright's Hair" came to be known as the best in the market.

It most likely was--at any rate, it may have been in those
journeys--going in and out among the houses and cottages in the country
that he came to be familiar with the sound of the "weaver's shuttle"
and the turning of the "one-thread machine." Long years after he was
to find that familiarity stand him in good stead. But, successful and
hard-working as he was, life was still a struggle, and with all his
efforts he earned but a bare living. It was hard to wrest a fortune from
wig-making and chin-shaving, so gradually there grew up in his busy
brain a project. It formed very slowly, but it did grow. It was the
genius within him struggling with disadvantages and drawbacks that would
have "posed" most men. His mind, leaning strongly to the mechanical,
groped vaguely at first after something, and then gradually it settled
down to the "spinning machine," and from that time onwards all his
energies were bent on that.

In his journeys among the cottagers it had been easy enough to see that
the yarn could not be made quickly enough for the weaver, that though in
thousands of cottages the "one-thread machine" turned from morning till
night and again from night till morning, it could not keep pace with the
shuttle. What was wanted was a dozen, fifty, a hundred threads to be
made by a single pair of hands. Did he perhaps see dimly even then that
he was to be the man who should throw out the old-fashioned hand-wheel?

One day he noticed a red-hot bar of iron become elongated as it passed
between two iron rollers. In that instant he first saw dimly the
tiny seedling that was to grow one day to the mighty tree of the
spinning-frame. The idea lodged in his brain and took firm hold of him.

In outward appearance at this time Arkwright was in no way specially
attractive or remarkable, but genius is not always outwardly beautiful,
and "there were notions in that rough head of his" that were one day to
alter England.

But Arkwright was no practical mechanic, and so he called in help
from outside--from one Kay, a clockmaker in Warrington, and under his
directions Kay made rollers and wheels, and shortly Arkwright had his
models ready to hand. Meantime, while his heart beat high with hope and
exultation, his pet models being always in his mind though for bread and
butter he still made wigs and shaved chins, he received a sudden and
unexpected check. His wife--for he was already married--chafing in
secret over what she considered his fantastic imaginings and idle
dreamings, made up her mind to destroy that which distracted his mind
from the business of shaving and money-making. As the surest means to
her end she burned his models one day when he was out of the way. Poor
Arkwright returned and discovered the mischief. In an instant his whole
stubborn nature was up in arms. Indeed, so wrathful was he that he
would from that day have nothing more to do with his wife, and the two

And now the great question was--how best to push the new model Kay had
made. Poverty handicapped him sadly. It was impossible to push anything
without money. He cast about in his mind where the money was to come
from, and settled on an old friend in Preston, "a liquor merchant and
painter" (probably a house-painter). To Preston he took his way. The
friend consented to help him, and together with high hopes and great
rejoicing he and Kay set up their model. But their secrecy had roused
suspicion. Behind this friend's house there happened to be a closed-in
garden with a number of gooseberry bushes. Close by in a neighbouring
cottage lived two old ladies. At nights they declared they heard a
strange humming noise among the bushes, as if the devil himself were
making music, tuning up his bagpipes for Arkwright and Kay to dance a
reel! The story got abroad. The people of Preston, excited and curious,
were eager to break into the house and discover if Arkwright and Kay
were indeed in league with the Evil One.

But after the model had been set up and was about to be shown in the
Free Grammar School in Preston, there came a sudden memory of dark
stories still fresh in men's minds of how other inventors had been
treated in Preston--how they had been mobbed and furiously ill-used,
while their inventions had been smashed to atoms by a people
panic-stricken because of their dread of machinery, which they believed
would throw them out of work and take the bread out of their and their
children's mouths. Arkwright remembered all this, and he and Kay finally
made up their minds to pack up their models and set off for Nottingham.

While Arkwright had been at Preston engrossed with thoughts of his model
a political election took place, and he was called upon to vote. But
so poor and so wretchedly clad was the man who was by-and-by to be a
knight--the man who was to leave behind him half a million--that before
he could present himself at the poll, several people had to club
together to exchange the tattered garments for something that would at
least be presentable!

Arrived at Nottingham, Arkwright tried to get someone to help him with
money. This brave man had firm faith in his invention and firm faith in
himself. It was simply impossible to discourage him. But the time of
waiting was long and weary before he fell in with a Mr. Strutt, the
inventor of the stocking-frame. An inventor himself, perhaps he was the
man who could best understand and appreciate Arkwright's invention. The
two entered into partnership, and it may have seemed to Arkwright that
his time of trial and waiting had at last come to an end.

And now truly enough he had his foot firmly planted on the ladder of
success. Behind him was a hard and toilsome boyhood. Before him were
still long waiting, difficulties to face, men's opposition to overcome,
dislike, distrust, envy, and jealousy to live down and conquer. But the
first step had been taken, and never once along the difficult way do we
find him flinch.

In 1769, the same year in which James Watt patented his Condensing
Steam Engine, Arkwright at the age of thirty-seven took out the patent
for his Spinning-Frame. His next step was to erect a cotton mill at
Chorley, and following that, one at Cromford, in Derbyshire. No sooner
were they finished than men flocked from Lancashire, and indeed from
all parts of England, to see them at work. They were the gazing-stock
of the country.

But Arkwright's brain was not the only one that had pondered on cardings
and rollers and wheels and spindles, and soon there sprang up men who
said this invention was not all his. He had taken other men's thoughts
and adapted them, and joined them together, and called the whole his
own. And now there followed hard years of opposition, fightings,
struggles, before which a weaker man than Arkwright would have gone
down. But nothing discouraged or defeated him. Not even five years of
weary waiting, an expenditure of £12,000, and yet no profit from his
invention! His brave spirit was still undaunted. Men did not try to hide
their envy and jealousy. They fell upon his mill at Chorley in mobs of
hundreds. A strong force of police, and even of the military, was called
out to quell the rioters. Two of them were shot dead, one was drowned,
and several were wounded; while the rest smashed every machine they
could lay hands on, everything that was worked by horse-power or by
water-power, sparing only and alone what human hands could undertake.
And it was not the workmen only who, with blind or short-sighted eyes,
looked on machinery as a curse, believing that it would rob them of
their living, but the better, more enlightened classes as well, who
regarded Arkwright as an enemy to mankind. They were doubtless at the
same time looking to their pockets. If working men were thrown out of
work, it meant that _they_ would have larger poor rates to pay, and so
they too fell upon Arkwright, not seeing that here was the man ready and
anxious, if they would but listen to him, to give thousands of people
work where now instead only hundreds had it.

Meantime he faced his opponents, showing always a brave front, and
trying to defend himself at every point. He endured the spoiling of his
property, and then, not content with browbeating him, they seized upon
his patent rights and disputed them. And the upshot was that Arkwright's
patent was set aside by Parliament. But even then the great inventor was
not overwhelmed. Passing by the hotel where some of his enemies were
standing after his defeat, he overheard one say to another--

"Well, we have done for the old shaver at last." Arkwright turned round,
ready, cool, immovable.

"Never mind," he said, "I have a razor left in Scotland that will shave
you all yet."

He had first tried horse-power for his mills. Now he was trying
water-power, and he foresaw that Lanark, in Scotland, so well situated
on the Clyde for his purpose, would furnish him with all that was

Meantime, cotton was gradually growing to a great industry in England.
People who had looked suspiciously and enviously on Arkwright at first
now reluctantly admitted that his goods were the best to be had, and
by-and-by it was he who fixed the prices in the market. It was as if by
his own efforts he had created a little world. The originality of each
part of his invention, may not entirely have been his. This part or
that--a roller, a carding, a crank, a spindle--one of these may have
belonged to some other man, but to Arkwright belongs the joining of all
together. It was his master mind that collected under one roof the whole
series of machines, from the engine that received the cotton-wool, much
as it came from the pod, to that which wound it in bobbins--a hard
and firm cotton-yarn. It was he who made each thing dovetail into the
other, who worked out the one perfect, harmonious whole. His, too,
was the strong mind that trained men and boys--never before used to
machinery--to its irksomeness, its regularity, its exactitude, taking
them from idle, desultory lives, it might be, and accustoming them to
system and discipline. In the old days the slow sale of the yarn and the
stupidity of workmen had sometimes almost daunted him, but these days
were past.

And how the man worked!--with a quick, all-grasping mind. It was the boy
over again in his underground cellar, unwilling to be worsted in his
"penny a shave," striking out the bold line of a halfpenny one. Riches
from his machines--and even more from his mills--flowed in upon him. He
was a man of no small account now. England had come to identify the name
of Arkwright with an open door to a great source of wealth for the land.
King George III. knighted him, and a year later he was made High Sheriff
of Derbyshire. But still he went on working, managing, superintending
his mills and his machinery--leading a life of sacrifice. As he had done
when a boy, so still as a man, he made the very most of his time, even
grudging that spent on a journey, and generally travelling with four
horses in order to overtake it quickly. He who had lived as a boy in an
underground cellar, now occupied a magnificent mansion, and was a man of
note in the county and in England. But we remember, and not without
sadness, how for long in the midst of his hard work he was a victim
to bodily suffering--subject to severe asthma--and how bravely and
uncomplainingly he bore up and struggled on in spite of all! Now,
already early--while he was but in his sixtieth year--he began to fail.
Asthma was complicated with other disorders. There were, too, the strain
and stress of a life of hard work, and these reached a climax while the
great man was still in the zenith of his mental powers, and he passed
away on the 3rd August, 1792.

Arkwright's name was now of world-wide fame. Hundreds and thousands of
people, many of whom had come to see his first cotton-mill, crowded the
rocks and roads about Cromford, and mingled with the long procession
that bore the body of the great inventor to his last resting-place.

They erected a monument in the church of Cromford to his memory. But the
name of Arkwright needs no carved memorial of stone. His memorial is of
a more lasting kind, for it is he whom England has to thank to-day for
an industry that has enriched the land. Not "proud Preston" alone--a
small town at his birth, a mighty place of manufacture now--has
Arkwright made to grow and flourish.

He was a man of "Napoleon nerve." Where other men saw but a short way
ahead, he grasped the end from the beginning; where other minds saw
merely a part, his eye was able to take in the whole. He may have
gathered up some threads from other men's brains, but it was he who wove
them into one great whole. He had a business faculty--he had shown it as
a boy--that rose almost to the height of genius. And he believed in
himself. He had great notions, great ambitions. Nothing was too big a
project for him to attempt. And success was his--great success, as the
world counts it. Immense riches, too, were his, for when he died he left
behind him half a million. But to us that seems not of so much account
as that that great mind of his was the first to grasp what was to put
within their reach a source of riches and profit to thousands of
working-people in England, and this in face of bitter opposition from
the people themselves. He braved their jealousy, he held his own against
their prejudices and attacks, and working often in bodily weakness and
pain, but with persevering determination, he brought this boon to his
country. With untiring courage and long, patient labour, he built up the
splendid scheme that has turned out for us to be the Factory System of
our country to-day.


When Josiah Wedgwood was born, some 170 years ago, I daresay the people
of the little village of Burslem would have been greatly astonished had
they been told that the humble potter's child was by-and-by to change
the place, with its few straggling houses, into a flourishing town with
thousands of inhabitants. And not this alone, but that he would make for
himself such fame that his name should be a household word throughout
Great Britain, and indeed throughout the world.

When Josiah came into the world there was already a small army of
brothers and sisters awaiting him in the humble little house close by
the churchyard of Burslem, for he was the youngest of thirteen.

Although then large towns and places near the sea were marching on with
the progress of civilisation, little country places buried inland were
shunted into a siding, as it were, and so were left far behind the great
world. In this way the midland counties of England were a long time
emerging from the darkness of the Middle Ages. Staffordshire, the county
of pottery, lagged a long way behind in improvements. Its villages were
straggling and dirty. Its houses little better than thatched hovels or
mud huts. Heaps of waste and dirt and rubbish blocked their doorways.
Broken ware was scattered everywhere. Hollows in the ground, where clay
had been scooped out to make ware, gaped close to the doorways, and
collected great pools of evil-smelling stagnant water.

Burslem was in something of this sorry state when Josiah Wedgwood opened
his eyes on the world. The people of the village for the most part had
been potters for upwards of 200 years. That is, they made pots and
butter-dishes and porringers--for spoons and plates were still of
wood--out of the clay of which their soil was made; not fine and
polished and gleaming white, as we know them to-day, but rough-hewn
things, for the trade of pottery was yet in its infancy.

A potter's work could be divided among one family. The father and sons
made and fired the dishes. The mother and daughters strapped them on
the backs of horses and donkeys, driving them along roads so wretched
that the poor beasts often stuck in the mud or fell down in the ruts,
while the women, with pipes in their mouths and rough words on their
lips, urged them on with whip and lash.

It was this sort of life that lay before Josiah. But he had been born
with a boy's best blessing--a good mother--a woman who had a heart large
enough for thirteen children, and who tried what she could to hand down
to them by example a birthright better than riches--to make them
patient, industrious, dependent on self.

When the child was little more than a baby, and able only to toddle with
uncertain step, he was sent to a dame's school, quite as much to be out
of the way as to learn his A B C. For the rest he played about the door
of the cottage, his greatest treat to bestride the pack-horse's back,
hoisted up by some good-natured packman. When he was seven years old he
was sent to school to a place called Newcastle-under-Lyme, some three
and a half miles across the fields. In long days of sunshine the
walk was full of pleasure to the boy, as he came to know Nature's
beauties--her birds and flowers and sweet fragrances--as we best can
know things, by close and loving intimacy. Long years afterwards, when
he had reached the highest heights of his trade, it was the unforgotten
faces of the wild flowers lurking in the fields between Newcastle and
Burslem that rose before his mind's eye as he decorated his china
services with coloured leaves and flowers.

When Josiah was nine years old his father died, and the mother was left
to struggle with her thirteen as best she could. Nor do we find that she
failed. She was a woman with a large, loving heart, that rarely quailed
before stress or struggle. The old potter had not been able out of his
hard-won earnings to leave to his children much--£20 when they reached
the age of twenty-one.

"And so," as Josiah used to say long afterwards, "I began on the very
lowest round of the ladder."

And now the child's scanty schooling had come to an end. He could write
and he could read, and he knew something of the mysteries of arithmetic,
but for the rest--that great storehouse of knowledge the world
contained--he had to unlock the door of _that_ for himself, and he did
it patiently, often in weariness and pain and suffering, as the years
went on.

To his eldest son Thomas the father had left the pottery, and now it
fell to him to act as father to the family. Josiah, as a matter of
course, went into the business, beginning, I suppose, at the humble post
of turning what was called "the potter's wheel."

This was a wheel with a strap round it attached to a disc that revolved
horizontally and beside which sat a man called "a thrower," shaping with
his fingers and hands the moist clay that was to form a bowl or plate or
whatever vessel was to be made, copying a pattern in front of him.

The boy worked steadily, but hardly had he reached the stage of
"thrower," hardly had people noted and admired the wonderful deftness
with which the boyish hands moulded and shaped the clay, when a cloud
descended and settled on his life--a cloud that, though he struggled
bravely against its depression all through life, never entirely lifted.

The terrible epidemic of small-pox visited Burslem, and the Wedgwood
family, living as they did on the edge of the churchyard, were among the
first to take it, the youngest so badly that his life was despaired of.
However, after long struggle, they pulled him through; but the disease
left behind it a knee which gave him hours and days of excruciating
pain, and seemed almost as if it would blight his whole life and ruin
his career. Every remedy was tried, in vain. At first when he rose in
bed, weak and unstrung, he fell back again. When later he began to stand
it was with weariness and pain. But the dark cloud had, though all
unseen at first, a silver lining. Out of what looked a great calamity
there sprang good. The boy when he crawled back to work was no longer
fit for the "thrower's" bench. The position he had now to take--with his
leg stretched out in front of him--cramped and impeded him. No longer
active and able-bodied, he was thrown, as it were, in upon himself, and
so took to thinking--not in a gloomy, despondent way, but thinking how
best he could improve himself, how best he could succeed in that calling
that from the very outset held a charm for him and all through life lay
very near to his heart.

At the age of fourteen Josiah was formally bound apprentice to his
brother. Here is the form. The quaint words sound ceremonious--almost
solemn. The writing provided that he was--

"To learn the Art, Mystery, Occupation or Imployment of throwing and
handling which he, the said Thomas Wedgwood, now useth, and with him as
an apprentice to dwell, continue and serve."

An apprentice in those days at the pottery works was allowed "his meat,
drink, washing and lodging, with suitable apparel of all kinds, both
linen and woollen and all other necessaries, both in sickness and in

In return the master "was to teach or cause to be taught the art of
throwing and handling."

How poor these potters were, and how poorly they paid their apprentices,
may be gathered from this:

For the first three years he got 1_s._ a week, for the second three
years he got 1_s._ 6_d._ a week, and for the seventh and last 4_s._ a
week. Besides this he got, once a year, a pair of shoes. At the end of
his apprenticeship, if he chose, he got 5_s._ a week for five years. It
was a dreary enough outlook for an eager, ambitious boy anxious to make
his way in the world.

But boy though he was, the difficulty of getting on--pain,
weakness--none of these obstacles were allowed to overcome Josiah.
Then even at that early age he showed the germs of that perseverance
that stood out so strongly by-and-by in the character of the man.

Strange as it may seem to us, what sounds the very common business of
making rough earthenware milk-bowls and butter-pots and plates was often
half shrouded in mystery, and went near to being something of a secret.

Pottery was yet in its beginnings--not yet an art--and it could only
grow and come to perfection by someone giving to it deep thought and
long, patient, painstaking experiments. For instance, one man might pore
over the matter and discover something new or come to some conclusion.
He might find one substance, a clay or a soil, that when mixed with a
second substance produced a third thing--something new. He might begin
to work this out in his pottery, and immediately all the workmen in the
place knew the secret of how he did it. The knowledge spread, and while
he believed it was still all his own, other men had seized on his
discovery; other potteries were turning out his ware and selling it.

So keen were men to find out the discoveries of other men, and so
closely have these secrets been kept, that sometimes a master would
prefer to employ idiots, when he could get them, to turn his wheel. If
one workman appeared more skilled than the others he was shut up while
at work. The door was locked, the windows were blinded, and when he came
out he was carefully searched. Men have been known to pretend to be
idiots just that they might get inside a noted pottery; even to put up
with kicks and blows for their stupidity; to make intentional mistakes
to encourage the falsehood; to hold on to this perhaps as long as two
whole years; while night after night they crept home and there wrote
down carefully every item of what they had seen, and so made the secrets
their own.

In Josiah's boyhood there was much of this sort of thing carried on. A
strict secrecy--a protection of themselves--as merchant vessels on the
high seas in olden days guarded themselves from the pirates who, ready
to pounce upon them, roamed the waters.

But as a man--a great, large-hearted, open-minded man--and one of the
greatest inventors of his time, Wedgwood never followed this line of
action. Rather was he nobly willing that others should be the better
for his brains. And so during his long life he took out only one patent,
as we call that which makes an invention all a man's own and prevents
others touching it.

At the time we write of there was just beginning to dawn on Josiah's
boyish mind what was by-and-by to raise him to the very top of his

He took to pondering and considering and making experiments with the
clay that lay about the doors. How to make the black mottled ware more
delicate--the ruddy-coloured of a fairer hue--how to mould rough edges
more smoothly--how to introduce fresh colours and glazes.

The whole thing threw over the boy a great glamour of fascination. They
show in Burslem yet a teapot--an ornamented thing made of the ochreous
clay of the district--as "Josiah Wedgwood's first teapot."

But the elder brother, brought up to the cut-and-dried routine of the
potteries life, had little patience with what he looked on as the
younger's shiftless dreamings. He had brothers and sisters to keep, and
money to make, and if Josiah were not more practical he wanted him no

And so the honest but short-sighted brother, his eyes blinded by the
present need of ready money, failed to realise that there was something
greater, and that the young brother would one day leave him and his
plodding ways far behind.

But while his brother looked upon the boy as an unpractical dreamer,
there were others in Burslem who saw the beauty of the patient,
uncomplaining, steadfast life, and more than one father in the place
called on his sons to take a pattern from Josiah Wedgwood.

But in the midst of his patient inquiries, and while he was yet little
more than a boy, a swift blow descended upon the Wedgwoods. The mother
who had for so long been father and mother in one to them was taken from
them. They laid her in the quiet little church of Burslem, and the
brothers and sisters went on living together.

It was not till he had reached the age of twenty-two that Josiah cut the
knot that bound him to home and went out into the great world to seek
his fortune, as eager youths will do to the end of time. He took with
him his little all--his father's legacy of £20, a pair of capable
hands, and a wonderful brain.

His boyhood was over. Manhood lay before him--rough places at first in
the world, puzzles, difficulties, trials, but in the end name, fame,
riches. If we could follow him past boyhood and just peep at the
future, I should like to tell you how he let some of these fancies
his brother had despised have free play; how he invented a new green
earthenware, forming plates in the shape of ornamental leaves; how he
coloured snuff-boxes and toilet vessels to imitate precious stones, and
how the London jewellers eagerly bought these up. How he made flowered
cups and saucers, familiar enough to us to-day, but strange and
beautiful to people then. Under him things took a step forward. People
even at their meals saw things of beauty. These became an education to
them--an art. Besides this they found other improvements. Lids fitted,
spouts poured, handles could be held! These were small beginnings, but
from these Josiah made great strides.

And one of the secrets of these strides was that he bent his _whole
mind_ upon his work. At night, after a day of hard work, he would
sit down and write out every smallest detail of his experiments and
discoveries. No pains were too great for him to take. Neither would he
trust to memory, so often in pain and weariness, but with a perseverance
that was never daunted, he would make his evening notes.

To him no trouble seemed too great, no detail too small. The boyhood
rarely fails to show the stuff the man is made of, and it was no
ordinary stuff the great potter was made of. So we are not surprised
that step by step he moved upwards and onwards. Hands and brain were
never idle. Often prostrate with pain and weakness, he would still
read and think and plan. Indeed, so much did he get into the habit of
planning that many a night it robbed him of his sleep, for he never lay
down at nights without making in his head a programme for the coming

Another secret of his success was his courage. Was it long familiarity
with pain--for his knee broke out again and again, and gave him weary
hours of suffering--that taught him to endure and resolutely refuse
to be overcome? Was it this made him say with Napoleon, "Nothing is

He met all difficulties alike with patience and with a steadfast purpose
to overcome them. He had two special ones. His workmen--often lazy,
indolent, drunken--were a trouble to him, as were also the furnaces,
where the heat had to be of a certain degree to fire his ware, and where
sometimes the work and labour of months would be destroyed in a few
hours. By patience he won the hearts of the first, and they came to
trust him, and by patience, too, he gradually righted the second. He
pulled down and he built up till the kilns were right.

"It must be done," he used to say of any difficult enterprise, "let what
may stand in the way."

He had great ambition for his beloved calling. He wanted to make it an
art. England had been long famed for cheapness but not for beauty, and
so he set himself to study the designs of the ancients and of the
Greeks, copying them on china and porcelain.

And yet it seemed that even as he took step after step there were ever
on each round of the ladder new difficulties. There was a long-standing
one--the wretched state of the roads in Staffordshire, and the
difficulty of getting the ware carried to other places for sale, and
of getting necessaries for the work brought into the county.

The backs of horses and donkeys, these were the only mode of
conveyance--miserable underfed creatures that tottered and stumbled
along and not seldom stuck in the muddy lanes or fell in the ruts and
rugged roads, and often broke their legs and their wares, and had to be
shot where they lay--a happy release for the poor animals. Josiah saw
all this, and realised that something must be done to remedy the evil.
So in the midst of his watchful care and constant thought for his
beloved potteries he made time to push the grand scheme of a canal that
began gradually to see daylight. It was not pack-horses that would
labour slowly to Birmingham and Sheffield, but a broad waterway to carry
goods to Liverpool and other seaports. This was what his native county
wanted. And so he subscribed largely to this, and helped to push a Bill
through Parliament.

"I scarcely know," he wrote, "whether I am a landed gentleman, an
engineer, or a potter, for indeed I am all three and many other
characters by turns."

In time Burslem, to which he had come back after absence, could hold him
no longer, so he bought a place near and called it Etruria, because for
long he had admired the beautiful work of the Etruscans away north of
the Tiber in Italy.

By his wonderful enterprise he made this bare place blooming and
fruitful, and from a lonely wilderness converted it into a place with
thousands of flourishing houses and workmen. And he himself was the
mainspring of it all--the moving spirit.

Now the inventions of his brain were selling all over the country, and
indeed all over the world. His delicate china had attracted the notice
of the Queen--Charlotte, the wife of George III. It was the full
development of that "cream" ware whose first beginnings had dawned on
his brain as a boy. She ordered a set of it, and henceforth it was known
the "Queen's Ware," and she sent to Josiah Wedgwood and said he might
call himself "Potter to the Queen."

And now his name was made, and soon a fortune followed. He discovered
a "jasper dip," and he invented a special kind of ware of which he
made vases, and for a time it seemed as if the country went mad for
Wedgwood's vases. "A violent vase mania," he called it himself. The
mania spread to Ireland and the Continent. Before this he had opened
showrooms in London, and the Wedgwood vases were wont to draw crowds as
great as the pictures in the Royal Academy. Nor did he confine himself
to vases. He made portraits in china of great men, and fashioned
beautiful chimney-pieces. His heart went out in burning indignation
against the curse of slavery, and he produced a model of a negro
chained in a supplicating attitude, with this motto round the figure:
"Am I not a Man and a Brother?"

Now he had made his fortune, but the man remained the same, much as he
had been as a boy--hard-working, conscientious, painstaking. As a grand
foundation to all his work he had made the surface of the earth a mighty
study, and when he died he left 7,000 specimens of soils and clays
labelled and classified.

Even when rich and famous he still took minute note of details. He
would visit each department of his works himself. He would have nothing
"scamped." Well did the workmen know the "thud" of his wooden leg on the
floor that announced his coming, and with his stick he would break any
article he did not think perfect.

"That won't do for Josiah Wedgwood!" he would say.

As life advanced, while it brought him joys, it brought him also clouds
and sorrows. His knee grew so tormenting that he was forced to have it
taken off. After this he used a wooden leg, or rather many wooden legs,
for he was very particular about having it often renewed. Partial
blindness attacked him, general ill-health, but his pluck, his
perseverance never failed.

As he withdrew a little from active life he took to gardening, but his
family noted his failing powers--not of mind, but of body. Asthma was
added to his other sufferings.

"I am becoming an old man," he wrote. "Age and infirmity overtake me,
and more than whisper in my ear that it is time to diminish rather than
increase the objects of my attention."

The end came very suddenly, and while he was yet not old. A pain in his
jaw was the beginning. Fever and insensibility followed, and in his
sixty-fifth year Josiah Wedgwood closed his eyes on a world that he left
the better for his passage through it.

He had scaled the ladder to its highest height. He was born in a humble
potter's cottage. He died in a mansion, surrounded by a population he
had gathered together and made to flourish. He left half a million, but
he had used his riches well. He had given of them to suffering and
distress. He made a poor depressed trade into one of the flourishing
industries of Great Britain, and for himself a world-wide name. He was
a great pioneer, and he accepted with patience the difficulties, the
thanklessness, the buffetings that confront the man who in anything
attempts the first beginning.

But while we admire his splendid qualities, it is the singular beauty
of his nature--a nature doubtless softened and sweetened by trial--his
uncomplaining bravery, his thought for others, his simple, steadfast
determination to carry through his life-work, in spite of the burden of
weariness and sickness and bodily pain, that most of all speak to our


If a town, or even a village, is of any importance nowadays it is sure
to have within it or alongside it a railway station, a place that brings
it into touch with the great outside world. Some seventy-five years ago
there were no railways or railway-stations in Great Britain, or anywhere
else, and people were content to post or coach along roads behind
horses. But now times are changed, and it is not wonderful that the name
of George Stephenson, the man who has opened up the country and spread
lines upon it like a mighty network, is a name to-day that people look
up to as one of the greatest inventors the world has ever known.

Most of us are fond of seeing the small beginnings of great endings, so
it is natural enough that for us the tiny village of Wylam should be of
deepest interest, for here George Stephenson first saw the light.

[Illustration: "Stephenson fighting the fire in Killingworth Colliery."]

We cannot visit Wylam without feeling at once that we are in the heart
of the colliery country. Newcastle's lofty chimneys tower some eight
miles off, and chimneys closer at hand belch forth great volumes of
smoke and smut, and flaming furnaces shoot out lurid lights by night far
across the country.

In a common little wayside house, just a labourer's cottage, standing on
the roadside, some 120 years ago a baby opened his eyes on a world that
was to be rough enough at first for his young feet, though at last they
were to land on the very topmost round of the ladder.

The second child of the fireman of the old pumping-engine of the
colliery of Wylam, little George was born to grinding poverty. Time as
it passed brought other children besides George to the Stephensons, and
soon it came to be a question how the fireman and his wife and six
children were to live on 12_s._ a week!

It was indeed a problem to solve and a struggle to face. When food had
been got for the little mouths, what was left for clothes and schooling?
Very little for the first, nothing for the second. No schooling
certainly for little George, and so he spent his childhood between
running errands for his mother and standing by his father's engine fire,
where the boys and girls of the village loved to gather to listen to
old Robert's wondrous tales, or to see the birds fed, for the old man
loved birds of all kinds, and would save the crumbs from his own scant
dinner to feed the robins. Here it was that baby George learned that
early love of birds that lasted as long as life. As a boy he would catch
and tame the blackbirds, and these would fly about the cottage all day,
and at night come and roost at his bed-head. Years after, when he was an
old man, he used to tell how, walking with his father one day, he parted
some thick branches overhead and lifted the child in his arms that he
might peep at a nest full of young blackbirds. It was a sight he never

But, baby though he was, his days were not all spent in play. At home
there were seven younger brothers and sisters to be nursed and watched
and kept out of the way of the heavy waggons that were dragged by horses
along the tram-road in front of the house, and much of this fell to
George's share.

As the years passed the Stephenson family, obliged like other colliers
"to follow the work," moved to a place called Dewley Burn, and now as
George had reached the age of eight he was ready to earn some money!

To show how smart and quick the child was for his years there has come
down to us a pretty story.

He and his sister Nell had gone to Newcastle one day, and among their
little commissions they were bent on buying Nell a new bonnet. They
found the very thing she wanted in a shop, but the price was beyond
their purse. It was 1_s._ 3_d._ over the mark, and the pair, sadly
downcast, had to leave the shop. Standing crestfallen outside the boy
suddenly exclaimed, "I have it! Wait here till I come back." Off he
darted, and Nell waited while the minutes wore to hours, and still he
did not come. Just as she began to think he must either have been killed
or run over he dashed up breathless and thrust the coveted 1_s._ 3_d._
into her hand.

"But where did you get it?" she asked, astonished.

"By holding gentlemen's horses," was the reply.

The child's first situation at this time was with a woman who kept a
farm and needed a boy to herd her cows and keep them out of the way of
passing waggons. For this the little herd-boy was paid 2_d._ a day. How
happy he was in long leisure hours to bird's-nest or whittle whistles
out of reeds, or in company with another boy--by-and-by, like himself,
to be one of the world's great engineers--to model toy engines out of
clay, using hollowed corks for corves and hemlock stalks for steam

Soon George advanced a step in life. His work was still
farm-work--hoeing turnips for 4_d._ a day, leading the plough horses
when his little legs could hardly stride the furrows, and working in
the dawning hours of day when other children slept.

But his heart was really at the engine fire or in the coal shaft. It
was "bred in the bone," and he gladly returned to the black, grimy
life, and along with his brother became a coal-picker, separating
stones and dross from the coal, and so earning 6_d._ a day.

By-and-by he was advanced to driving "the gin-horse," a horse that
travels round and round at the pit's mouth drawing up and letting down
by means of a rope wound round a drum, baskets of coal or buckets of
water, and for this he was paid 8_d._ a day.

Long miles he had to walk every day to and from his work, "a
grit-growing lad, with bare legs and feet," and I think we may be sure
there was not a bird's nest on that familiar road that the little
bird-lover did not know by heart.

His next rise was to a shilling a day. This was a great step up, and
for this he had what was called a night shift, lading and unlading the
coals as they came to the mouth of the pit, and reversing the rope to
go down again. Monotonous enough work it was, but he held on to it for
two years. And now another step up was at hand. It was a proud day for
the boy--that Saturday afternoon when he was told that his wage had
been raised to 12_s._ a week!

"I am a made man now," he exclaimed in great delight.

And now he was seventeen years old. He had really stepped beyond his
father both in wage and position. But there was one thing which he
had yet to master. It may seem strange to us, but George could neither
read nor write. It began to dawn upon him then that things about
which he wanted to know--pumps and engines and the great world of
mechanics--could only be learned from between the boards of books that
were closed to him. But with George to realise an evil was to try at
once to mend it. Inside the boy's rough working jacket there beat a
manly heart, with a great longing to make the most of his opportunities,
to let no chance slip of doing his best.

So he actually went to school at nights--three times a week, spending
3_d._ out of his wages to be taught to read and write. He laboured on
and made progress, and in time he wrote and read, and by-and-by he took
another step and added to these arithmetic. With marvellous quickness he
"caught on" to figures. In the long weary night shifts sitting by the
blaze of the fire he would "work" the sums his master had "set" him or
write his copies, just as years after, so eager was he to seize every
opportunity that offered, he would many a time (in odd moments) chalk
his sums on the sides of the coal waggons!

So little by little, by untiring labour and unwearied industry, by
"neglecting nothing," he rose. The miners who were his daily companions
were, many of them, a rough lot. Their life was a hard one and their
pleasures few, and on Saturday afternoons--pay-day--their amusements
were cock-fighting, dog-fighting, and drinking in the ale-house, while
the future great engineer might be found engaged in pulling to pieces
his engine, cleaning it, getting to know it as we know the character,
the habits, the face of our dearest friend, all the time laying in such
a store of practical knowledge as was to serve him in good stead in
time to come.

Not that George did not delight in exercise. Indeed, few of his
companions could equal him in athletics. There was nothing he enjoyed
like challenging them to feats of strength in throwing the hammer or in
lifting heavy weights. And even in comparative old age he loved to
engage in a wrestle with a friend.

About this time George had a favourite dog which he taught to fetch and
carry his dinner in a pitcher tied round his neck. At the appointed hour
the creature used to go straight to his master, turning neither to the
right nor to the left. But one day he was beset with danger in the shape
of a bigger dog with murder in its eye. George's dog closed with it, and
a deadly tussle began, but it beat the bully and came off victorious
but bleeding. When he reached his master the pitcher was there, but the
dinner was spilt; but George was prouder far, when an onlooker described
the fight, of his dog's courage than he would have been of the most
sumptuous feast.

But in spite of his larger wage money was scarce, and George beat about
in his own mind how he was to earn a few extra shillings. With keen eye
ever on the outlook for what lay nearest, he lighted on the _shoes_ of
his fellow-workmen! He took to mending these, and he mended them so well
that the pitmen soon got into the way of making George their cobbler.
And from this he went on to making shoe-lasts for the village shoemaker.
In this way it came to pass that in a fortnight's time he would
sometimes make as much as £2. When he had by long and careful labour
saved his first guinea great was his delight. "I am now a rich man!" he

Yet another source of earning money was at hand. One day the chimney of
his house went on fire, and being drenched with water, the soot and
water together succeeded in damaging an eight-day clock that stood in
his kitchen. Money was still scarce, and the watchmaker did not work
without pay, so George set to work and took the clock to pieces, cleaned
it, and put it together again. Rumours of this new "handiness" spread,
and colliers from far and near sent their watches and clocks to him to
doctor. It was almost as if nothing came amiss to these wonderful hands
or, indeed, to that wonderful brain.

A wheezy engine pump, a clock out of gear, a pair of worn-out shoes--he
had a remedy for all. Painstaking, conscientious, thorough--the work of
the boy shadowed forth the success of the man.

If I had space I could tell you how, after he ceased to be a boy, he
became a splendid man. That divine capacity--the creative faculty for
making something out of nothing--that had been struggling long within
him came to the surface, and he burst on the world as an Inventor.

The boon he gave to men--the thing with which his name will ever be
linked in history--is the Locomotive Steam Engine.

What battles he fought for it when the country rose in arms and said
they would rather hold by the old post-horses and coaches that had been
good enough for their fathers! They were hard to convince. They declared
if railways and trains came the country would be ruined. The engines
would vomit forth smoke. No bird could live in the poisoned air. Game
all over the country would be spoiled. The sparks that came from the
engine would set fire to the houses near which they passed. Hens would
stop laying! Cattle would cease to graze! The man who said he would send
engines flying through the air at the rate of twenty miles an hour was
a fool and a maniac!

Then Stephenson showed the same patience--for the world was long of
being convinced--as he had done on those long night-shifts, sitting
lonely by the engine fire and working out his sums, or as years later,
when prospects were very dark and money scarce, he wept bitter tears,
"for he knew not where his lot in life would be cast."

But though only a self-taught mechanic, Stephenson stuck to his guns in
the face of the most skilled engineers in the land. For two long months
the thing hung in the balance. It came before the great House of
Commons. George himself was put into the witness-box. Single-handed,
undaunted, he faced a world that was all against him. And then he had to
bear the great trial of his life. The Bill was thrown out of Parliament.
But still he did not despair. He looked into the future, and he saw
himself conqueror. The Bill was again brought forward and eventually
passed. I could tell you then of his long course of triumphs. How his
engine, "The Rocket," won a £500 prize. How really the first seed of
the Railway System of the world was sown then. How then he got leave to
make a railway between Stockton and Darlington, and in time one between
Manchester and Liverpool. How when, in 1830, the line was finished,
people flocked in hundreds and thousands to see "a steam coach running
upon a railway at three times the speed of a mail-coach."

The people were carried away with excitement! The great steam-horse that
we look at half a dozen times a day with indifference was thought to be
the world's greatest wonder. And George Stephenson was the hero of the
hour. As the train neared Manchester, the people in their excitement
broke all bounds, and even the military could not keep order, as they
swarmed on the carriage like bees, and hung on to the handles, many of
them being tumbled off, while shoutings and cheers went up from a
thousand throats.

And now that he was successful, now that people praised where they
had blamed, and pandered where they had scoffed, the man remained the
same--modest, single-minded, just what he had been as the boy earning
his shilling a day by driving the old "gin" horse at the pit's mouth.

And now from the humble labourer's cottage he had climbed to the
highest heights of fame. He was the first mechanical genius in the eyes
of the world. The greatest in the land rejoiced to honour him. From the
depths of poverty he had risen to wealth. Honours flowed in upon him.
But the "boy is father to the man," and it was peculiarly true of George

"I never want," he had said long years before, when he was earning
£100 a year, and was able to keep a horse, "I never want to be

He was much the same as in those old days. There was no dazzling him
with worldly display or worldly honours. He cared little for social
distinctions. His instincts all along had been "to dwell among his own
people." It gave him the keenest pleasure to have a day at Newcastle
among the scenes of his boyhood, looking up the simple friends of his
youth. And his tastes, too, remained in many ways just the old simple
ones. When he was an old man, and nearing the end of his pilgrimage,
when he was surrounded by every luxury of table and otherwise, he would
call for a "crowdie," and with the basin of boiling water between his
knees, would stir in the oatmeal with his own hands, watching it with
great satisfaction, and then sup the whole with sweet milk, pronouncing
it "capital."

His last days were very peaceful. He removed from the swirling current
of business life into a side eddy, when he was about sixty, to a place
called Tapton, where he lived a quiet life, meditating among his beasts
and birds and flowers, reading in each something of the beauty of the
mind of a Greater Inventor than he. He took no part in business life,
leaving it to his son, though now and then he would hear from afar
echoes from the old world as the old war-horse scents the smoke of

There was no long illness to mar the end of his splendid energetic life.
Those who had known him in the full tide and flush of health had not the
pain of noting either physical or mental decay. He was at a meeting in
connection with engineering in July. Some weeks later he took a severe
fever, and after ten day's illness, without much suffering, the end
came. On the 12th August, in his sixty-seventh year, George Stephenson,
the great engineer, passed away.

The whole civilised world bewailed his going. He had lived long enough
for it to realise and appreciate the mark he had made on the age. But
most of all did the colliers mourn him--the men to whom he had been as
a kindly father, a leader, a hero. They laid him in the quiet little
churchyard at Chesterfield, and they raised monuments to him all over
the country, as a grateful people will do,--erected statues and memorial
schools, and painted portraits. But a man like George Stephenson needs
no memorial of stone. He has left an undying work to speak for him,
and a character that has moved men to admiration everywhere for its
simplicity, combined with its greatness, its manliness, that made
it possible for him, the poor collier's son, to meet on equal
ground--himself also being a man--men of the highest rank in the land.

We cannot, any of us, imitate his genius or his power of invention, or
his splendid physical strength, but it is within the scope of all of us,
however young or insignificant, to copy his conscientious, unwearied
hard work.

"Ah, ye lads," he used to say to young men when he was himself an old
one, in his broad, honest Doric, "there's none o' ye know what _wark_

He has left us a splendid example of patience, content, courage,
attention to detail. But most precious of all, of a heart that beat
as kindly in old age as in youth, that made him dearly loved by his
workmen, and that never turned away from hearing and helping those in

Riches and success and prosperity, crowding upon him in later years, had
no power to spoil the simple beauty of his character, for the Wylam
collier's son, besides being the world's honoured inventor, was also
"one of Nature's gentlemen."


To see as a boy the greatest inventor of the age, we shall have to cross
the Atlantic and take a journey to the United States of America. England
has done wonders in the way of discovery and invention, but it is to New
England, as we call it, because she is a daughter of the old Mother
Country, that we must go for a brightness and a sharpness of wit that
sometimes make us think of the flash of polished steel.

We all know the name of Edison. It is not a name of history, for he is
living to-day, a man still in his prime, still sending out from that
wonderful brain of his things that astonish men, and have won for him
the name of the "wonder-worker of the modern world."

I have before me as I write the picture of a square, brick house, with
outside shutters hooked back, a white paling half encircling it, and a
couple of bare, leafless trees before it. The house is plain and poor,
and has a strangely unfamiliar look to our English eyes, but it is of
the deepest interest to us as the birthplace of Thomas Edison.


The boy first saw the light in 1847, and though he came into the world
with but a poor provision waiting him, he found himself welcomed with
a very wealth of love and tenderness. Mrs. Edison had Scotch blood in
her veins, and she was a mother in a thousand. It is a common thing
in history to find that a son draws his greatness, many of his best
qualities, from his mother, and this son took many of his from Mrs.
Edison. She was his constant companion, his loving nurse, his gentle
teacher during those early years of life that leave so deep an impress
on the "afterwards."

The child was seven years old when the Edison family moved to a place
called Port Huron, and there he began to spend every spare moment in
reading. So earnest was he that he set himself to read through the
Detroit Free Library, and had devoured a close row of volumes before
his attempt was discovered.

Strange and solemn sound some of the titles of the books he read when
he was twelve years old--a time when most boys are lightly dipping into
newspapers and magazines and books of adventure. Burton's _Anatomy of
Melancholy_, Hume's _History of England_, Gibbon's _Decline and Fall of
the Roman Empire_.

In 1862, when he was barely fifteen years old, he came out more fully
from the shelter of home and mixed with the busy world, making a place
in it for himself by his own young wits. He was a newspaper boy, and
sold his papers like other boys, not stopping still in one place, but
going on the train to different stations along the line, and selling as
he went.

About this time there was a great fever and ferment in America. The
North were fighting with the South, and people panted for news of each
battle as it took place. Papers with reports were devoured as soon as

"Now," thought Edison, "is my chance," and there began to work in the
brain of the boy a big scheme. As the first step to carrying it out, he
betook himself to the station telegraph clerk.

"If," he said, "you will let me wire the war news on a few stations
ahead, and have it written up on the blackboard, I will promise you some
papers, and now and then a magazine."

He repeated his request to the different clerks along the line. His
eager face and twinkling eyes and earnest words won all hearts, and his
request was granted. He next went to the editor of a well-known paper.

"Give me a thousand copies," he begged, "and I will pay out of the
proceeds of my venture." Here, again, he succeeded. And now it remained
but to get the engine-driver to promise him a few minutes at the
different stations, and he started on his venture.

At the first stopping-place he had been wont to sell some half-dozen
papers. That day, as he looked out, the platform was strangely crowded,
and it suddenly dawned on him, from the eager faces of the people and
their excited gestures, that it was _papers_ they wanted! He dashed on
to the platform, and in a few minutes had sold forty at five cents each,
or about a penny of our money. It was much the same at the next station.
The people had read the headings on the station blackboard, and they
crowded on to the platform, an excited, hustling mob, for papers! It
dawned on the boy, here was a chance to raise his prices, so he doubled
them, and sold 150 where he had used to sell a dozen! It was the same
all along the line. At the last station--Port Huron--his home, the
people were most excited of all. The town was a mile from the station.
Edison started off with his papers, but was met half-way by an eager,
hurrying crowd. They all wanted news. He stopped, drawing up in front of
a church where a prayer-meeting was being held. Presently the people
poured out and surrounded the boy, willingly paying him five times the
usual price of his paper. He began "to take in," as he expressed it, in
his own terse, telling words, "a young fortune."

After this the busy boyish brain began to look eagerly ahead, to face
life seriously. He did not start off on a fresh tack. He took hold of
what was nearest to his hand, and he bent his mind on improving that. He
had found people were in a hurry for news. The quicker they got it the
better they were pleased. Nothing could surely be quicker than that they
should get it damp from the press! So it flashed into his brain--why not
print a paper on the train?

The question was no sooner asked than answered.

He looked about till he lighted on an old car, and he rigged it up as
a printing-office with old types and stereos he begged from a newspaper
office. In this novel press-room he threw off sheet after sheet of
what he called _The Grand Trunk Herald_, the first and last paper ever
printed on a train. The boy of fifteen was editor, compositor, and
newsvendor in one. The paper "caught on," and the circulation went up
to 400.

But, alas! misfortune was soon to overwhelm the young adventurer. One
unlucky day the printing-office--the old car, which grew daily more
decrepit and unequal to the jolting of the journey--by a more violent
lurch than usual threw over a bottle of phosphorus. The cork flew out,
and in a few seconds the car was in flames. They were easily enough got
under, but Edison's venture had received its deathblow. The furious
car-conductor would henceforth have none of him. He boxed his ears, and
pitched him on to the platform along with his precious belongings--the
whole paraphernalia of his craft.

It is a sorry picture that presents itself to our mind's eye. The boy
standing half stunned, the rubbish and _débris_ of his belongings
strewn at his feet, and the cherished old jolting car, the scene of his
labours, gradually fading into distance! It seemed as if his bright
dreams were all extinguished, his golden hopes doomed to come to
nothing. As he stood there he faced it all--a mere boy low down in the
world, badly fed, poorly clothed, almost penniless, but we do not hear
that he either flinched or complained, or that a boyish sob rose in his
throat. He was made of the stuff of the Stoic. It is our hearts that are
sore and anguished, not chiefly for the hopes and dreams disappointed,
but because of a terrible calamity that befell him then, when he was
perhaps hardly conscious of it; but that grew darker and weightier as
the years rolled on.

When the irritated conductor had boxed the boy's ears, so brutal had
been his onslaught that the delicate nerves were injured for life,
and now with the flight of years has come deafness to wrap the great
inventor in a partial mantle of silence. It is perhaps we who feel
most the infinite pathos of the thing, while the man himself bears his
affliction with the same noble patience with which he accepted
disappointment long years ago as a boy.

At that time he straightway turned his eyes bravely homewards. He picked
up his precious belongings, and carried them to a cellar in his father's

It was about this time that his mind began to bend towards that which
has ever held for him a keen interest through life--the Telegraph. A
waking ambition in him desired strongly to perfect himself in it. He
was poor and friendless, and yet firmly, doggedly resolved to get on
somehow. So out of his scant earnings--still as newsboy--he bought a
book on Telegraphy, and this he pored over night and day.

And now at this early age I think the great inventor must have touched
that mine that was afterwards to yield him so wondrously of its wealth.

The boyish mind was putting out feelers, gropingly at first, in the
direction of creation, that divine faculty that is granted to so few of
us. We can recognise the seed in its first tiny sproutings. He and a boy
friend resolved to make a telegraph. They made a line of wire between
their houses, insulated with bottles, and crossed under a busy
thoroughfare by means of an old cable found in the bed of the Detroit
River. The first magnets were wound with wire and swathed in ancient
rags, and a piece of spring brass formed the key. Edison pressed two
large and formidable-looking cats into his service, tied a wire to their
legs, and applied friction to their backs. But the experiment ended in
failure. The cats, frightened and furious, resented the liberty, and
parted company with, the wire, dashing off in different directions.

But failure never discouraged Edison, nor stayed the working of his
brain. He was a true philosopher, and he was, like an elastic ball,
possessed of enormous rebound.

Handed down to us there is a story of the boy which, while it may not
throw much light on his brain, throws some on his heart and on his ready
courage. He was still a newspaper boy on the trains, and while at most
stations a few minutes was the limit of waiting, at a certain station
where shunting took place the minutes ran to half an hour. The boy was
wont to spend this half-hour with the stationmaster's child, of whom he
was fond, or to loiter about his garden. On this particular day the
engine-driver had unlinked the cars in a siding, and one was being
sent with a good deal of impetus to join another portion. It came on
steadily, no one on it to control it, and right in its path was the
unconscious baby smiling in the morning sunshine. Not a moment was to
be lost. Edison threw down his papers and his hat on the platform and
dashed to the rescue. And not a second too soon. As he threw himself and
the child free of the line the car passed and struck his heel. The two
fell with such violence on the gravel beyond that the stone particles
were driven into their flesh, but they were safe!

The grateful father was at a loss how he could show his gratitude to the
rescuer of his child. He had little money and no reward to give. At last
a plan occurred to him.

"I will teach you telegraphing," he said to the boy, "and prepare you
for the position of night operator at not less than twenty-five dollars
a month."

Edison was delighted. The bargain was struck. The wage seemed, no doubt,
a small fortune to the boy--rather more than five of our English pounds.

And now he had got his "toe on the tape," his foot on the ladder, if
it were only on the lowest round. In three months he could teach his
master, and the promised situation was got for him. From that he passed
to other situations, and gradually he began to make his mark.

He had a mind wonderfully quick to see a difficult situation and to deal
with it.

There is a story told of how one winter a severe frost had coated the
great river between Port Huron and Sarnia, how the cable was broken,
and people could neither get news nor send it to the opposite bank of
the river. The spot was crowded with people, baffled and vexed. Edison
came along with a brain rarely at fault and faced the thing. Suddenly,
to the onlookers' astonishment, he mounted a locomotive and sent a
piercing whistle across the water, imitating by the toots of the engine
the dots and dashes of the telegraph system.

In this way he shouted--

"Holloa, Sarnia! Sarnia, do you get what I say?"

At first there was silence on the part of the telegraph man across the
water. The people on the bank were breathless with excitement. At last
the reply came clear--thrilling. The man on the other side had
understood, and the two cities could "talk" again to each other.

After this, people began to hear of Edison's fame. But the mania for
experiments had seized him. The cut-and-dried monotonous routine of work
seemed flat and stale to him by comparison. It was as if an enchanted
region of fairyland had been opened to the boy. To be allowed to revel
in it he denied himself food and necessary sleep. When he was seventeen
years old he invented a telegraph instrument that would transfer
writing from one line to another without the help of the operator.

There were no want of openings now for him to choose from, but sometimes
doors after they had been opened were rudely shut again through envy
and evil feeling. In the great world of invention and discovery there
are perhaps more "ups and downs" than in any other. Some of Edison's
fellow-workers were kind and generous--others were jealous and
detracting. One manager did him an ill turn. He was unequal to
completing a discovery he had begun. On the thing being shown him,
Edison immediately "saw a light" and brought it to completion, but
jealousy crept into the man's small mind and he dismissed the boy on
a false charge.

So at seventeen he was thrown again on the world. Money was still
scarce. Books and instruments and calls from home swallowed up the most
of it. The boy was chafing under ill-treatment and a sense of injustice.
The want of sleep, perhaps of proper food, was telling on him, but he
looked forward with a clear, undaunted eye. He wanted to reach a certain
town where he believed work awaited him. It meant a walk of a hundred
miles. He was weak, disheartened, ill-prepared for it, but he did it.
He arrived footsore and weary, with torn shoes and tattered clothes,
and his worldly possessions tied in a handkerchief on his back.

In this shabby plight he presented himself at the telegraph office. He
was eyed coldly enough at first, but by-and-by when tests were given he
stood the tests. There was that in the eager eyes and underneath the
shabby clothes that could not but make itself felt as a power. He began
work. At first his fellow-clerks laughed at him. In time they were won
over, and later he stood out as a workman of the first order.

He began to collect about him materials for printing--machinery without
which he never felt quite happy. He did a clever thing one day in the
office that brought him into notice. He took a press report at one
sitting--a sitting that lasted from 3.30 p.m. till 4.30 a.m.! After that
he carefully divided it into paragraphs so that each printer would have
exactly three lines to print, and so that a column could be set up in
two or three minutes!

It may be that about this time money was rather more plentiful, for
Edison began to go to second-hand bookshops and so to gratify his
deep-seated thirst for knowledge.

His kindness of heart was well known, and there were many about only
too ready to take advantage of it. There were telegraphists who roamed
the country in time of war--"tramp operators" they were called, who took
short engagements and generally ended their time with a "spree." These
found out Edison--a man who did not drink himself and a man who might be
persuaded to lend them money--and these were his worst enemies.

One day he had bought at an auction fifty volumes of the _North American
Review_. Half a dozen men were sponging off him in his rooms when he
brought home the books and ranged them unsuspiciously round his walls.
Directly he had gone out his guests helped themselves to his purchase,
landed them at the nearest pawnbroker's, and drank the money they

But his love for experiments sometimes brought him into scrapes and
disaster, as when he moved a bottle of sulphuric acid one day, strictly
against rules, and the bottle spilt, the contents eating through the
floor to the manager's room below and there eating up _his_ floor and
carpet, the unlucky accident bringing Edison his dismissal.

And now, at the age of twenty-one, after many different situations
and different experiences, Edison turned his steps to Boston. His
openhandedness had left him short of money. As was often the case with
him, he was sailing very close to the wind. His dress was poor and
shabby, and four days' and nights' travelling had not improved his
appearance. When he presented himself at the office where he was to
be taken on, the other clerks ridiculed him as "a jay from the woolly

They made up their minds to play a practical joke on him. They took the
New York telegraph man into their confidence. It was arranged he should
send a despatch which Edison was to receive. By this time Edison had
so perfected himself in receiving messages that he could write from
forty-six to fifty-four words a minute--quicker than any operator in
the United States.

Not knowing his man, the sender began slowly--then quickened his
pace. So did Edison. Quicker still he worked. Edison was in no way
discomfited. Soon the New York man had reached his highest speed, to
which Edison responded with ease, cool, collected, and stopping now and
then to sharpen a pencil between.

By this time he had discovered that the others were trying to get "a
rise" out of him, but he went on steadily with his work. Then he
stopped and spoke quietly through to the New York man.

"Say, young man," he said, in his dry humorous way, "change off and send
with your other foot."

But the New York man had reached the end of his tether and had to get
someone else to finish, and so Edison won his laurels, and "the jay from
the woolly west" was regarded ever after with enormous respect.

After that his place was in the front rank. Now he had reached the
threshold of manhood, and a long, dazzling vista of achievement and
success stretched before him had he known it. About this time a great,
strong conviction of his responsibilities and of the opportunities life
held out to him swept over him.

"Adams," he said to a friend, "I've got so much to do, and life is so
short, that I'm going to hustle."

And if we try to look at what he has crowded into a life not long, we
must allow he has indeed "hustled" to some purpose. As we briefly
glance at the bent of his manhood, his doings fairly dazzle us. He read
enormously all sorts of works on telegraphy and electricity, and he
produced from his brain that which makes him the greatest inventor of
the age. If we tried to enumerate his inventions the names alone would
fill pages. We can do little more than name a few. Among the first of
these was how to send four messages at the same time over one telegraph

But even after he had embarked on the glorious sea of discovery,
what "ups and downs"--what sea-saws of fortune were in store for him!
Hunger at times, torn clothes, and battered shoes. But from depths and
half-drowning up again he always came to the surface. He rose grandly,
relying on his own indomitable will. About this time good fortune befell
him. For inventing some telegraphic appliances he got 50,000 dollars, or
rather more than £10,000. He could hardly believe his good luck, and
it was with this he immediately rigged up for himself a workshop.

And now he was rapidly rising, and the field before him was gradually
opening up wider and wider. He started a laboratory at a place called
Newark, and from this time onwards his inventions seemed to flow from
his brain in a well-nigh continuous stream.

His workmen were devoted to his service. His genial good-humour and
kindliness, the absence of all harshness in his manner, and his love of
fun could not but endear him to them. They caught the infection, too, of
his earnestness. When he had an idea in his brain he worked at it, as it
were, red-hot, almost without rest or cessation, and they were rarely
reluctant to help him.

"Now, you fellows!" he would say, shutting himself and his workmen up in
a room on the top flat, "I've locked the door, and you'll have to stay
here until this job is completed."

During sixty hours, perhaps, he would take no sleep and little food,
while his brain would work at highest pressure until the thing was
wrought. Then he would relax, and sleep for as long as thirty-six hours
at a stretch.

And now his fame had spread far and wide. The people at Menlo Park, to
which he removed--some twenty-four miles from New York--began to look
upon him as a wizard--a man possessing magical powers. It seemed to them
there was nothing he could not do. Exaggerated tales of his wonderful
powers spread over the country.

"If people track me here," he said (he had been besieged at Newark), "I
shall simply have to take to the woods."

Child after child was the offspring of the inventor's brain. At one
time, within the space of a few years, as many as forty-five were born.

There was the Microphone, which is much like the Telephone, except that
in the Microphone the sound is magnified. There was the Megaphone, which
brings far-away sounds near, so that cattle crunching grass six miles
off could be heard distinctly at Menlo Park! There was the Kinetoscope
we all know, which by swiftly passing pictures--as many as forty-six
a second--seems to give us a single person in motion, somewhat on the
lines of that toy of our childhood, "The Wheel of Life." And there was
the grand king of inventions--the Phonograph--that overtops all the

We know it, all of us, by this time. We have listened to it, with the
tubes at our ears, while the voice of someone speaking at a distance is
distinctly borne to us, or the strains of a song sung by some great

In 1888 Edison sent his first phonogram by steamer to England. His
friend here had only to take out the wax cylinder, put it into his
machine, and set it in motion, and lo! it seemed to him as if Edison
himself were in the room talking to him!

Great men all over the world recorded their astonishment and their
praises of the wonderful invention. The Queen sent him a message of
congratulation. People flocked to every exhibition to see it--to the
French one from countries all over Europe. They saw it and straightway
went into raptures. Edison himself, looking into the future, seemed to
see volumes it might yet be brought to do. It might be used to write
letters merely from dictation. It might be used to make clocks speak--to
tell when it was time to come to meals. It might be used for toys. A
tiny phonograph might be placed inside a doll, and it would straightway
"talk"; or in a toy animal, and it would grunt and growl!

What a strange thing that in this world of passing-away and change we
should be able to preserve from destruction such treasures sheltered in
a wax cylinder--some great man's words of wisdom, or the silver tones of
a sweet musician!

The more Edison's brain accomplished the more did it seem able to do. As
a man he showed himself untiring as when a boy. He went on discovering.
He invented a way of telegraphing from a moving train. He invented an
Electric Railroad, that drew delighted thousands at the Chicago

In 1879 his attention turned to lighting, and he bent all his energies
on inventing an Incandescent lamp for electric light. He spent days
working at a sort of white heat. He began on the 16th October, but
mishaps and accidents seemed to threaten his invention.

"Let us," he cried to his partner in a ferment of excitement--"let us
make a lamp before we sleep, or die in the attempt." On the morning of
the 21st it was done!

It astonished the world. It opened up possibilities for miners and
divers, and for men everywhere.

On the occasion of its exhibition people flocked from all parts of the
United States. Special trains were run. The same furore over the marvel
reigned at the Paris Exposition, and at every other exhibition. And
through it all--a fame, a popularity enough to turn the head of most
mortals--the man remained the same--modest, simple, unpretentious.

From Menlo Park he went to Orange. His laboratory there was fitted up
with everything conceivable that an inventor red-hot and eager might
want at a moment's notice. And yet often the workrooms presented the
strangest appearance of disorder. Workmen sometimes stretched on
benches or floor after a heavy strain, the great master himself thrown
down--a stick under his head, a coat wound round it for a pillow, and
so snatching a short interval of sleep! He will not be interrupted by
visitors. In this great world of his own he seems at times to live a
sort of separate existence.

We are amazed, dazzled, astonished by the tremendous results one man in
his lifetime has achieved. He has not been content to take some thing
and modify and improve it and set it to a new purpose as men whom we
call inventors have done in all ages. But he seems to have called upon
the very forces of nature to do his bidding. It is almost as if he had
harnessed the winds, the air, sound, electricity, for his purposes.

A man after a single discovery not seldom rests on his laurels for life.
This man is still in his prime, and we cannot tell yet what product of
his brain will still astonish us, and we cannot touch here on a tithe of
what he has done. He lives sometimes in his northern home, in New
Jersey, sometimes at Orange.

As a man he shows the same genial, kindly sympathy which, as a boy,
never failed to win the hearts of his fellow-clerks, the same modesty
that disarmed their jealousy. These things chain his workmen to him
to-day with links of love. Now that men praise and laud him all over the
world he shows the same good-natured indifference to name and fame he
has shown all through. And he has lost nothing of the tireless energy
that used to support him through hard work and long night-sittings as a
boy--this man who, as someone has it, "has kept the path to the patent
office red-hot with his footsteps--this wonder-worker of the modern


There is perhaps no inventor's name with which the British boy is more
familiar than with that of James Watt. In every college of mechanics or
engineers we are met in bust or print by the kindly, shrewd, benevolent
face of the great inventor of the Condensing Steam Engine.

It is difficult for us to picture what the world must have been before
James Watt came into it--before, as it were, steam took its place and
while yet men and horses and wind and water struggled feebly to do what
steam now does with such apparent ease.

On the west coast of Scotland stands what is to-day the busy, thriving,
seaport town of Greenock--the birthplace of James Watt. But in 1736,
more than 150 years ago, it was little more than a picturesque
fishing-village, looking out on a peaceful, smiling bay, where a few
modest fishing-craft were to be seen, and beyond to the hills of
Argyllshire, before smoke and funnels blotted the fairness of the

In an unpretentious little house in a Greenock by-street James Watt
first saw the light. His father was by trade a carpenter, an undertaker,
a general "merchant," for there was little competition in those simple
days, and men often "professed" more than one trade. In the course of a
few years little James was left the sole surviving child of five, and
perhaps on that account was specially precious to his parents. Neither
as the years went on did he grow into a sturdy, lusty country boy, but
rather struggled up slowly, anxiously overlooked by a mother's care, a
prey to ill-health and headache, even in his baby years. So that most of
his early education fell to his parents, his mother opening up to him
the beginnings of reading, his father those of writing and arithmetic.

School, to which he went by-and-by, proved a failure. Shy and shrinking,
he cared little for the play of other children. He was slow at
games, perhaps dull in class, and the boys and girls laughed at him.
Ill-health, too, made it hard for him to get on. He liked best to be at
home. For amusement he would draw in chalk on the kitchen floor, and for
playthings he would choose his father's instruments. One day a
neighbour remarked on the child's drawing.

"He should be at school," she said, "and not trifling away his time."

"Look first," said the father, pointing to the floor, "before you blame
him. He is solving a problem in geometry."

The child was then six years old!

We are familiar with the story handed down to us through the centuries
of how the dreamy-eyed boy was engaged in watching the steam hiss from
the kettle-spout, the while holding a teaspoon below to count and catch
the drops of water. Tradition likes to see in this the tiny seedlings of
that mighty tree--the Condensing Steam Engine, but we fear that common
sense in the shape of his robust-minded aunt was nearer the mark when
she exclaimed--

"James Watt, I never saw such an idle boy as you are. For the last hour
you have not spoken one word, but taken off the lid of that kettle and
put it on again, holding now a cup and now a silver spoon over the
steam, watching how it rises from the spout, catching and counting the
drops it falls into."

For change of air the boy was sometimes sent to Glasgow, the great
commercial capital being then no larger than a country market-town.
Mightily astonished were his relatives, and, according to their own
account, not a little scared, when of an evening his tongue was loosed,
and he would launch into tales, wonderful things that held them
entranced for hours, and sent them wakeful to bed. Was this time
prophetic of those later years when he would hold men and women
fascinated by the charm of his conversation?

And now young James was sent to the Greenock Grammar School, but he made
no great mark there, except in mathematics, in which he easily headed
the class. But Latin and Greek are not a boy's only education. At home
he was learning other things, from his parents' talk, from the pages
of books. And then there were the long golden hours when he put on a
leather apron like his father, and installed himself in his father's
workshop with a small forge and a small bench all his own, and with his
boyish fingers handled the tools so deftly and so cleverly that the
workmen watching him exclaimed--

"Little Jamie has gotten a fortune at his fingers' ends."

But while he worked his mind was not idle. He read eagerly and
precociously, as a delicate child sometimes does, devouring all such
books as he could lay hands on. Solid enough reading they will seem to
boys to-day.

_The Cloud of Witnesses_, Henry the Rymer's _Life of Wallace_, Boston,

Added to this was his parents' talk, that fell on his young ears and
stamped itself on his young mind, and the picturesque surroundings of
his home, for he loved nature's beauties--the hills, the stars, the
trees. The mountains and the plains about his home were made romantic by
memories and associations of Covenanting times, told him by his father,
and his boyish rambles were made beautiful by wild flowers, and again
there were long delightful days of fishing to add to these.

But in the midst of all this struggling in the boy's mind was that
strong leaning to mechanical invention longing for an outlet. It peeped
out here and there--for instance, in being unable to see an instrument
without wishing to discover all its uses. And so well did he show
himself able even then to fashion delicate things like compasses and
quadrants--an instrument in shape like the fourth of a circle--that his
father, after much thought, made up his mind that James should learn
the trade of a mathematical instrument maker.

So in 1754 James came out from the shelter of home and launched himself
on the great world, rather more of an ordeal to the shy, timid boy
than it would have been to one more robust and enterprising. This was
practically the last of Greenock. The peaceful fishing-village was never
again to be his home. Naturally he turned his steps to Glasgow. We can
picture the great event in the quiet household. The boy getting ready,
his modest baggage, his clothes (his mother's tender care), a leather
apron, some carpenter's tools, and a quadrant.

But he was destined to go yet farther afield. No mathematical
instrument-maker was to be found in Glasgow. A professor to whom James
was introduced advised him to go to London. "To London" is an easy
enough journey to-day--then it was a mighty undertaking. No trains--no
steamers. One could only go by slow coach or on horseback. James chose
the latter. His trunk was sent by sea from Leith, and he along with a
friend set off on his long journey. He left on the 7th day of June, and
travelling by Coldstream and Newcastle, he arrived in the great
metropolis after a ride of twelve days!

Most likely, although there might have been fear in the boyish heart, it
also beat high with hope. Again and again has London made fair promises
to boys such as he. But disappointment was to meet him on the very
threshold. He found that apprentices who intended to serve a term of
seven years were only accepted. This was very far from James's thoughts.
What he wanted was to learn the trade, start off home again, and set
up in Glasgow for himself as soon as possible. After many failures,
however, he at last found a man willing to take him on for a year on his
promise to pay twenty guineas with the results of his work during that

And now began a time of stern work and self-denial. He took poor
lodgings. He scrimped himself in everything but the bare necessaries of
life. He spent on himself exactly eight shillings a week. He could not,
he wrote, do with less. He scraped and pinched, remembering how ill his
father could afford his keep.

When he could get extra work he took it home at nights to his poor rooms
and sat up late over it, often ill and weary. In a month he could make
a quadrant better than any of the other apprentices. And so he struggled
on against loneliness and headache and depression. It was rarely safe to
venture out at night at that time in London, for sailor press-gangs were
abroad. No able-bodied man was spared. In one night they took as many as
1,000 men. Sitting as he did close to the shop door when at work, he was
often exposed to cold, and caught rheumatic pains which did not leave
him for many a day. After a year of this he went home to Greenock, in
his possession some tools and instruments, and in his hands and brain a
mighty store of skill and knowledge.

Revived by his native air he set out again to seek his fortune--again
to Glasgow. Again to be met with disappointment! He had not learned his
trade in Glasgow, and therefore Glasgow would have none of him. Not so
much as a workshop would it give him. It seemed almost as if there were
no place open for the boy.

But his friend the professor came to the front again. If Watt could find
no place in the city, then the University should shelter him. And so
they gave him a workshop twenty feet square in the old College grounds,
and a room in which to sell his instruments, and he was at last fairly

But business progressed but slowly. He lived, to be sure, in an
atmosphere that must have delighted him. The professors and the students
found him out. They came and came again. He seemed always to have
something original to say. He was a man who read much and thought
much--humble as a child about his own attainments--eager with the
generosity of the great man to give others their due--yes, even more
than their due. They found out that he knew all about engineering, and
not a little about natural history, art, languages--and then the trick
of observation was so strong with him that nothing escaped him. In time
it came to be the general opinion that the young instrument-maker was
one of the ablest men about the University. But gratifying as was the
making of these friends, they did not bring Watt in any money. Somehow
his instruments did not sell well. He was too far from the town. Indeed,
his business was so poor he sometimes thought of giving it up. It may
have been there was a want of practical "push" in him, a quality he
never gained all through his life. Somewhat discouraged he took to
making fiddles and flutes and guitars and even organs,--but he was yet
very far from making that fortune he had come out to seek.

There are crises, turning-points in the lives of most people. They are
seldom noisy. Sometimes, indeed, they come so quietly as to be hardly
noticed. And now Watt was gradually nearing his.

About this time his thoughts began to turn to steam. It may be that had
he been busy and successful as an organ-maker, his great invention might
never have seen the light.

People had, of course, known for long that there was a power in
water exposed to heat. Now in 1759, when Watt was twenty-three, his
attention was drawn to the Steam Engine. He pondered it. After he had
pondered it he set to work. His first model was a failure. But the
idea had silently and firmly lodged in his brain. He went on with his
everyday business, but ever in his leisure back sprang his mind to
that subject that was to be his all-absorbing life-work. He read
eagerly what other men had done. He got a model of another man's
engine and he studied it. He found what he thought defects. He groped
steadily on--now seeing a light--again thrown into darkness--now
following what turned out to be a will-o'-the-wisp--again getting
hold of an idea that seemed to him a gem.

There came to him gradually dawning thoughts. First, that of Latent
Heat. Again, that a small quantity of water in the shape of steam heats
a large quantity of cold water. Yet, again, that at 212° water is
elastic, and that steam heats six times the weight of cold water to a
temperature of 212°, the temperature of steam.

And so he went on step by step, till one day the thing burst on him,
full-fledged, as it were--complete, dazzling, a perfect inspiration.

It was a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1765. He was taking a stroll
in a quiet part of Glasgow, now a paved and busy thoroughfare called the
Green. A Sunday calm brooded over what was on weekdays a scene of busy
life--of washing and drying clothes. His thoughts, as usual, hovered
about his beloved theme. It inspired him with a very passion as a child
of his own. The key to his engine--long sought--suddenly flashed before
his mind's eye. The thing had been waiting incomplete for want of it. It
came to him then--the idea of a Separate Condenser.

A great uprising of his mind followed. In his solitary walk the
flashing thought filled the man with rapture.

Two drawbacks--waste of steam and waste of fuel--had been the ruin of
former inventions.

"Ye need not fash yourself about that, man," Watt said to a friend,
answering some objection that he had made, "I have now made an engine
that shall not waste a particle of steam."

And so, though it was but the beginning, though years of weary labour
and disappointment and discouragement waited him before the end was
reached, the Condensing Steam Engine, as we have it now, first sprang
into being that spring afternoon on the Green in Glasgow.

And now the young inventor set himself with eager enthusiasm to make a
model. There were no skilled workmen to be had, no self-acting tools, as
in our day, and so the first model was only partly successful. But not a
whit discouraged, he went on.

"My whole thoughts are bent on this machine," he said. "I can think of
nothing else."

And now there remains but to tell in a few words--for it is the record
of his manhood--the "ups and downs" just beginning, the disappointments,
the failures, the hopes and fears that waited on this offspring of his
brain. He was poor, and money was the first thing that was needed. Who
would risk thousands on such a vague and shadowy thing?

Meantime the pot had to be kept boiling! He looked into the future, and
he saw great things steam might yet be made to do, but there was bread
and butter needed for the present. So he went bravely in for surveying,
though there was little enough to be made by that. He had still
ill-health to struggle against. "I am still plagued with headaches," he
wrote about this time, "and sometimes heartaches."

But after a time a gleam of hope shone through the clouds. After
failures and difficulties he at last succeeded in finding someone
willing to risk his money. So in 1769 he patented his engine, and began
to build it. In six months it was finished, and as it neared completion
Watt could hardly sleep. Then, and for long still in the future, he was
to suffer from bad, incapable workmen, and this accounted for his
partial failure.

"It was," he said, "a clumsy job." Watt grew depressed.

In 1770 he wrote: "I enter on my thirty-fifth year, and I think I have
hardly yet done thirty-five pence worth of good in the world."

A friend, seeing him cast down and unhappy, advised him to give up
inventing. As well might he have advised the sun not to shine or living
man to cease from breathing. Meantime the years went on. Watt was often,
as he said, "heart-sick." Long years after, remembering this weary time,
he said, "The public only look at my success." He stinted himself in
everything but bare necessaries, for as yet his engine had paid him
nothing and cost enormously. But light again arose in the darkness when
he got as a partner Boulton, of Birmingham, and from that day onwards
matters mended. Six of the fourteen years' patent were gone, but he
succeeded in getting a renewal of it for twenty-four years by Act of
Parliament, in spite of grumbling discontent of men who wanted to steal
the fruit of his brain, and were thus prevented.

Now he set to work in earnest. His first engine was made to blow the
bellows of ironworks. His second to pump water out of the mines in
Cornwall. In 1776 this was set up, and worked perfectly. "There it was,
'forking water' as never engine before had been known 'to fork.'"

"All the world are agape," he said, "to see what it can do."

And it did well. And now the "voice of the country was in its favour."
So the first step was taken. The others followed in quick succession.
The partners worked together perfectly. Watt understood engines, but
not men. He grew impatient, irritable, peevish if a workman were
inefficient, and would have dismissed him on the spot. Boulton was
wiser, and never failed to oil the wheels. Watt was despondent, easily
cast down; Boulton was his "backbone."

There came then into Watt's mind the idea of an engine that would
produce _rotary_ motion. This he patented in 1781. All round and about,
ready to pounce on it, were a perfect swarm of pirates.

"One's thoughts seem to be stolen before one speaks them," he said. And
again, "All mankind seem to be resolved to rob us."

In 1782 the first rotary machine worked. After long waiting there was a
brilliant result. It was made to drive a corn-mill. In our day it would
be hard to say what Watt's rotary machine is not made to do. It is made
for corn-mills and for cotton-mills, for sugar-mills and iron-mills. It
drives our steamers and rolls our hammer-iron and coins our money and
prints our books.

And now the great inventor had reached the highest pinnacle of fame. In
1790 he had an interview with the King, who asked about his engines.

But he had not landed at the topmost round of the ladder without much
painful climbing and many weary steps. His life had been all through
shadowed by ill-health, and an anxious, worrying mind that refused to
be calm. He had a shrinking distaste to business, and a fearful habit
of looking on the dark side of things. Often would he have sunk in
depression and despair had it not been for his cheery partner. It was
only in the late years of his life that he came to know anything like
peace. His mind all along had been too active for his body.

But though as an old man he retired from public life and from
business, he could not altogether retire from invention. He invented
a letter-copying machine, and one for copying statuary. In his old
age he lived very quietly in his comfortable house near Birmingham,
furnishing what he called his Garret, a room where he might be alone
and still invent, don again, as in boyhood, the leather apron, cook
his own food, and ponder anew the details of those wonderful
inventions he had given to the world.

Friends admitted there found "the great Mr. Watt" simple, modest,
careless of display--much as he had been as a boy--his voice low and
kindly, with still its broad, homely Scottish accent. The world would
have liked to draw him from his seclusion, to caress him, to make much
of him. It offered him a baronetcy, but his simple tastes lay not at all
in the direction of such honours, and he refused it.

In 1819, when he was eighty-three, the end came. "I feel," said the
great man with a calm in strange contrast to the fearfulness and
timidity that had accompanied him through life, "I feel that I am now
come to my last illness." He passed away quietly and without suffering.
They buried him in Handsworth Church--near to his partner, Boulton--and
erected an imposing statue in Westminster Abbey, and beneath it Lord
Brougham wrote his famous epitaph.

To us his life has much of pathos. Men have called him "the greatest
inventor in all ages," "the most extraordinary man that the world has
ever seen," but the long years of struggle and labour and waiting, the
weakness of body and the oft depression of spirit, are to us not a
little sad, specially when we remember how patiently he endured, how
uncomplainingly he suffered, that we might profit, that he might, as
Lord Brougham has it, "increase the power of man."

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Transcriber's Notes

In the caption of the illustration on page 102 "Stevenson" has been
changed to "Stephenson" (Stephenson fighting the fire).

On page 117 ' has been changed to " (of Nature's gentlemen.").

On page 159 -- has been added (of youth."--_Publishers' Circular._).

Otherwise the original has been preserved.

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