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Title: Lives of Boulton and Watt - Principally from the Original Soho Mss.
Author: Smiles, Samuel
Language: English
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                             BOULTON AND WATT.


  LIVES OF BRITISH ENGINEERS, from the Earliest Times to the Death
      of Robert Stephenson; with an Account of their Principal Works,
      and 270 Woodcuts. 3 Vols. 8vo. 63_s._


      l’aide de Biographie. Traduit de l’Anglais par ALFRED TALANDIER
      sur le texte revu et corrigé par l’Auteur. Post 8vo. 5_s._

      Volume to ‘Self-Help.’ Post 8vo. 6_s._

      the Engineers.’] With Illustrations. Post 8vo. 6_s._

      SON ROBERT STEPHENSON. [Abridged from ‘Lives of the Engineers.’]
      With Illustrations. Post 8vo. 6_s._

      ‘Quarterly Review.’ Post 8vo. 1_s._ 6_d._

                      JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.

[Illustration: _James Watt F.R.S._

_Engraved by W. Holl, after the portrait by Sir W. Beechy, R.A._

_Published by John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1865._]



                             BOULTON AND WATT.


                              COMPRISING ALSO

                           OF THE STEAM-ENGINE.

                             BY SAMUEL SMILES,



                      JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.


                  _The right of Translation is reserved._

                            AND CHARING CROSS.


The present volume concludes the author’s ‘Lives of the Engineers.’ Its
preparation was begun many years since. The favourable reception given to
the ‘Life of George Stephenson,’ the principal improver and introducer
of the locomotive engine, encouraged the author to follow it by a Life
of James Watt, the principal inventor and introducer of the condensing
engine. On making inquiries, however, he found that the subject had
already been taken in hand by J. P. Muirhead, Esq., the literary executor
of the late Mr. Watt, of Aston Hall, near Birmingham. As Mr. Muirhead was
in all respects entitled to precedence, and was, moreover, in possession
of the best sources of information, the author’s contemplated Life of Watt
was abandoned, and he satisfied himself with embodying the substance of
the materials he had collected in a review of Mr. Muirhead’s work, which
appeared in the ‘Quarterly Review’ for July, 1858.

Having recently, however, through the kindness of M. P. W. Boulton, Esq.,
of Tew Park, Oxon, been enabled to examine the extensive collection of
documents brought from Soho, including the original correspondence between
Watt and Small, between Watt and Boulton, and between the latter and his
numerous intimate friends and business correspondents, it has appeared
to the author that, notwithstanding the valuable publications of Mr.
Muirhead, the story of the life of Watt is one that will well bear to be
told again, in connexion with the life and labours of Matthew Boulton of
Soho. The two men were so intimately related during the most important
period of their lives, and their biographies so closely intermingle, that
it is almost impossible to separate them. They are therefore treated
conjointly in the present volume, under the title of ‘Boulton and
Watt,’ the name of the old Soho firm which so long enjoyed a world-wide
reputation. But though the name of Boulton takes priority in the title,
that of Watt will be found in many respects the most prominent in the

The MS. papers which have been consulted for the purposes of the present
volume are of an unusually complete and varied character. They consist
of several thousand documents selected from the tons of business books
and correspondence which had accumulated at Soho. The most important
were selected and arranged by the late M. Robinson Boulton, Esq., who
entertained the highest regard for his father's memory; and, from the
character of the collection, the author inclines to the opinion that
it must have been made with a view to the preparation and publication
of a Life of Matthew Boulton,--which has not, however, until now been
undertaken. Thus, among sundry papers endorsed “M. Boulton--Biographical
Memoirs,” is found a MS. memoir in the handwriting of James Watt, entitled
“Memorandum concerning Mr. Boulton, commencing with my first acquaintance
with him,” and another of a similar character, by Mr. James Keir,--both
written shortly after Mr. Boulton’s death. Another collection, endorsed
“Familiarum Epistolæ et Selectæ, 1755 to 1808,” contains letters received
from various distinguished personages in the course of Mr. Boulton’s
long and interesting career. The number of original documents is indeed
so large, that, but for a rigid exclusion of non-essential matter, these
Lives must have expanded into several volumes, instead of being compressed
into one. But the author believes labour to be well bestowed in practising
the art of condensation, and that the interest of biography gains much by
judicious rejection. What Watt said to Murdock as to the production of
a machine, holds equally true as to the production of a book,--“It is a
great thing,” said Watt, “to know what to do without.”

Besides the memoirs of Boulton and Watt, which occupy the principal places
in the following volume, it will also be found to contain memoirs of the
other inventors who have at various times laboured at the invention and
application of the steam-engine,--of the Marquis of Worcester, Dionysius
Papin, Thomas Savery, and Thomas Newcomen. The author has also been
enabled to gather from the Boulton papers a memoir of William Murdock,
which probably contains all that is likely to be collected respecting that
excellent and most ingenious mechanic.

In addition to the essential assistance received from M. P. W. Boulton,
Esq., in preparing the present book, without which it would not have been
undertaken, the author desires to record his acknowledgments to J. W.
Gibson Watt, Esq., for information relative to James Watt;--to Charles
Savery, Esq., Clifton, J. T. Savery, Esq., Modbury, Lieutenant-Colonel
Yolland, R.E., and Quartermaster Connolly, R.E., for various facts as
to the family history and professional career of Thomas Savery, inventor
of the “Fire Engine;”--and to Thomas Pemberton, Esq., Heathfield; W. C.
Aitkin, Esq., Coventry; George Williamson, Esq., Greenock; the late J.
Murdock, Esq., Handsworth; and the late Mr. William Buckle, of the Royal
Mint, formerly of Soho,--for various information as to the lives and
labours of Boulton and Watt.

In his treatment of the subject, it will be observed that the author has
endeavoured, as much as possible, to avoid introducing technical details
relating to the steam-engine. Those who desire further information
on such points, are referred to the works of Farey, Tredgold, Bourne,
Scott Russell, Muirhead (‘Mechanical Inventions of James Watt’), and
other technical treatises on the subject, where they will find detailed
particulars of the various inventions which are only incidentally referred
to in the following pages.

    _London, October, 1865._


                                CHAPTER I.

  Anecdote of Matthew Boulton and George III.--Roger Bacon on steam
    power--Early inventors, their steam machines and apparatus--Hero
    of Alexandria, Branca, De Caus--The Marquis of Worcester--His
    water-works--His imprisonment--His difficulties--The
    water-commanding engine--His “Century of Inventions”--Obscurity
    of descriptions of his steam-engine--Persevering struggles--His
    later years and death                                     Page 1–26

                                CHAPTER II.

  Zeal of the Marchioness of Worcester--Sir Samuel Morland--His
    pumps and fire-engines--His privations and death--Dr.
    Dionysius Papin--His digester--Experiments on the power of
    steam--His steam-engine--Proposed steamboat--Early schemes
    of paddle-boats--Blasco Garay--Papin’s model engine and
    boat--Destroyed by boatmen--Papin’s death                     27–38

                               CHAPTER III.

  Thomas Savery--The Savery family--Savery’s mechanical experiments
    and contrivances--His paddle-boat--Treatise on ‘Navigation
    Improved’--Cornish mines and the early pumping machinery--Savery’s
    “Fire-engine”--Exhibition of his model--Explanations in the
    ‘Miner’s Friend’--The engine tried in Cornwall--Its failure at
    Broadwaters, Staffordshire--Savery’s later years--His death and
    testament                                                     39–58

                                CHAPTER IV.

  Slow progress in invention of the steam-engine--Thomas Newcomen
    of Dartmouth--His study of steam-power--Correspondence with Dr.
    Hooke of the Royal Society--Newcomen’s experiments--Assisted
    by John Calley--Newcomen’s atmospheric engine--Newcomen and
    Calley erect their first engine--Humphrey Potter the turn-cock
    boy’s contrivance--Engines erected at Newcastle-on-Tyne, Leeds,
    and Cornwall--Wheal Fortune engine--Mr. William Lemon--Joseph
    Hornblower--Jonathan Hulls and steam propulsion of ships--His
    steamboat--Extended use of the Newcomen engines in Cornwall and
    northern mining counties--Payne, Brindley, and Smeaton, improvers
    of the steam-engine                                           59–76

                                CHAPTER V.

  James Watt, his birthplace and lineage--His grandfather the
    mathematician--Cartsdyke and Greenock in the last century--James
    Watt’s father--His multifarious occupations--His mother--Watt’s
    early years--His fragile constitution--Sent to school--His first
    visit to Glasgow--His indulgence in storytelling--His boyish
    ingenuity--His home education--The Stuart rebellion--Watt’s love
    of scientific pursuits--Sent to Glasgow to learn the trade of
    mathematical-instrument maker                                 77–95

                                CHAPTER VI.

  Glasgow in 1754--The Glasgow tobacco lords--The early clubs,
    and social habits of the merchants--Watt’s master--Leaves
    Glasgow, and proceeds to London on horseback--Is placed with
    a mathematical-instrument maker--His progress in learning the
    trade--Frugal living in London--Danger from pressgangs--His
    infirm health--Returns to Scotland--Refused permission to begin
    business in Glasgow--Gains asylum in the College--His workshop
    there--Makes musical instruments--His various reading and
    studies--Intercourse with the professors--Intimate relations of
    Watt with Robison--Robison’s estimate of Watt                96–116

                               CHAPTER VII.

  Robison and Watt’s conferences on the power of steam--Dr. Black
    and latent heat--Watt’s experiments on steam--His apparatus--The
    college model of the Newcomen engine arrives from London--Watt’s
    experiments upon it--His difficulties and perseverance--His
    instrument-making business improves--Takes a partner and opens
    a shop in the Salt Market--His marriage--Continued experiments
    on steam--His Sunday walk on Glasgow Green, and his first idea
    of the condensing engine--His experiments with the model, and
    successive difficulties--Anecdote of Watt and Robison and the
    new apparatus--The model engine--Removes to a cellar and erects
    a working engine--Mechanical and financial difficulties     118–137

                               CHAPTER VIII.

  Watt’s introduction to Dr. Roebuck--Begins business as
    surveyor--Surveys canals--Partnership with Roebuck in the
    engine--Difficulties in constructing the engine--Watt’s visit to
    Kinneil--A patent determined on--Watt’s despondency--Continues
    his improvements--Learns German--Correspondence with Dr.
    Small--Specification of patent lodged--Watt erects a trial
    engine--The washhouse behind Kinneil--The engine completed--Its
    defects--Roebuck’s embarrassments--Watt accepts engagement to
    superintend canal works--Employed in various surveys--Designs
    Hamilton Bridge--Supplies plans for dock and pier at Port Glasgow
    and harbour at Ayr--Illness and death of Mrs. Watt--Dr. Roebuck’s
    ruin--Turning point in Watt’s fortunes                      138–158

                                CHAPTER IX.

  Birmingham in early times--Its industry--Roads--William Hutton--The
    Boulton family--Matthew Boulton begins business--His trade
    correspondence--His marriage--His love of business--Snow-hill
    and Soho--Partnership with Fothergill--Aims at excellence
    in his productions--Emulates Wedgwood--Surpasses French
    art-manufacturers--His royal and noble patrons--Employs the
    best artists--Visits of foreigners at Soho--Extension of
    business--Promotes canals--His vast business--Commercial
    panic--Boulton’s scientific pursuits                        161–181

                                CHAPTER X.

  Water- and horse-power at Soho--Boulton’s correspondence
    with Benjamin Franklin concerning fire-engine--Boulton’s
    model--Correspondence with Dr. Darwin and Dr. Roebuck--Watt
    visits Soho--First meeting of Boulton and Watt--Correspondence
    of Boulton and Watt, and of Dr. Small and Watt--Dr. Roebuck
    visits Boulton--Watt’s anxiety for Boulton to join him--Watt’s
    discouragements--His continued experiments and their failure--Watt
    engineer for the Monkland Canal--Commercial panic--Watt loses
    employment as canal engineer--Roebuck’s failure--Terms of proposed
    partnership between Watt, Small, and Boulton--Roebuck’s share in
    Watt’s engine transferred to Boulton--Watt’s arrival at
    Birmingham                                                  182–198

                                CHAPTER XI.

  Characteristics of Matthew Boulton--Contrast between him and
    Watt--Boulton’s friends--Watt’s engine at Soho--Boulton’s
    views of engine business--The Kinneil engine re-erected
    at Soho--Works successfully--Inquiries for pumping-engines
    from the mining districts--Proposed extension of patent by
    an Act--Watt in London--Death of Dr. Small--Watt invited to
    Russia--Application to Parliament for extension of engine
    patent--Application opposed--Watt’s arguments--Act obtained--Watt
    returns to Birmingham--The manufacture of engines begun--The
    Wilkinsons--First iron vessel                               199–213

                               CHAPTER XII.

  Watt’s house, Harper’s Hill--First order for engines--Boulton’s
    activity--The London engineers prophesy the failure of Watt’s
    engine--Watt revisits Glasgow--His second marriage--Terms of
    partnership between Boulton and Watt--Orders from Scotland for
    engines--Boulton pressed with work and anxiety--Watt returns
    to Soho with his wife--Order for engine for Tingtang and
    Chacewater mines, Cornwall--Watt and the Shadwell Waterworks
    Committee--Stratford-le-Bow engine--Difficulties with workmen at
    Soho, and with unskilled enginemen--Expansive working       214–229

                               CHAPTER XIII.

  Inefficiency of the Newcomen pumping-engines--More orders from
    Cornwall--Watt in Cornwall--United Mines district--Mines
    drowned--Watt and Jonathan Hornblower--Mrs. Watt’s
    account of Cornwall--Chacewater engine finished--Its
    successful working--Watt’s embarrassments and financial
    difficulties--Boulton’s courage and perseverance, and
    Fothergill’s despondency--Fire at Soho--Engine royalty on
    savings of fuel--Altercations with adventurers--Watt’s frequent
    calls for Boulton’s help--Boulton’s harassments--Proceeds to
    Cornwall--Watt’s return to Birmingham--His despondency--Boulton
    sustains the firm--Orders for engines from abroad--William
    Murdock, his excellencies of character and ability--First
    interview with Boulton and engagement--Sent to Cornwall--His
    mode of dealing with the captains--Watt’s altercations with the
    Cornishmen--His reliance on Boulton--Altercation with
    Trevithick                                                  230–260

                               CHAPTER XIV.

  Lieutenant Henderson in Cornwall--Boulton’s financial embarrassments
    increase--Boulton and Fothergill--The “Soho pictures”--Watt’s
    letter-copying machine--Boulton pushes the machine--Demand for
    copying-presses--More financial difficulties--Watt’s sufferings
    and melancholy--More Cornish engines wanted--Engine-dues--Boulton
    cheers Watt--Mining adventurers’ meetings--Boulton and
    Watt take shares--The mines--Boulton organises the mining
    business--Boulton’s house at Cosgarne, Cornwall--Mrs. Watt
    describes her husband’s miseries and weakness--The engine
    patent threatened by the Cornish men--Watt on patent right--The
    Birmingham Copper Company--Boulton improves engine-boilers by
    introducing tubes--His MSS. and drawings concerning mechanical
    and scientific experiments--His indefatigable industry      261–284

                                CHAPTER XV.

  Watt again visits Cornwall--Rotary motion--The crank-engine at
    Soho--Theft of the invention--Matthew Washborough--Smeaton
    and steam-power--Rotary-motion engine--Boulton and Watt’s
    cares--Evasions of the engine patent--The Hornblowers’
    engine--Watt’s new inventions--Boulton’s confidence in the
    engine--Air-engine--Watt’s fears for the patent--The rotary engine
    invented--New improvements introduced--The equalising beam--Watt’s
    ill health and humour--Various expedients for producing circular
    motion--Murdock’s sun-and-planet motion--Patent taken for the
    reciprocating expansive engine--Troubles with workmen--Murdock’s
    efficiency and popularity--Watt’s despondency--The firm’s London
    agent’s house burnt--Gloomy prospects of the mining trade   285–316

                               CHAPTER XVI.

  Financial position of the firm--Rotary engines for mills--Boulton’s
    battles with the Cornish adventurers--His life in
    Cornwall--Murdock and the miners--The Hornblowers’ engine at
    Radstoke--Watt at Bristol--Major Tucker--Steam mills--Rotary
    motion applied--The first rotative engines--Pumping-engines for
    the Fens--Boulton’s health fails--He visits Scotland, Carron
    ironworks, Lord Dundonald--His extensive correspondence--Grumbling
    in Cornwall--Concessions to the miners--Press of work
    at Soho--Watt’s invention of the parallel motion and the
    governor--Murdock’s model locomotive--Boulton’s praise of
    Murdock--More pumping-engines wanted--Boulton’s affection for his
    children--Letter to his son--His scientific recreations--Domestic
    enjoyment at Cosgarne                                       317–341

                               CHAPTER XVII.

  Boulton’s action in commercial politics--His interview with
    Pitt--Agitation against Pitt’s commercial policy--The “Irish
    resolutions”--Watt on free commerce--Is opposed to political
    agitation--Combination against patents--Fluctuations in the
    business at Soho--Engine orders from various quarters--The
    Cornish copper-miners--The Copper Company formed, and Boulton’s
    part in it--Riots in Cornwall--Boulton’s life threatened--The
    esteem in which he was held in Cornwall--His intimacy with
    the Quakers--The Albion Mill scheme--The double-acting
    engines for the mill--Ill-success of the undertaking--Albion
    Mill burnt down--Demand for rotative engines--Want of
    skill and misconduct of workmen--Wedgwood’s advice to
    Watt--Speculativeness of Boulton--His embarrassments--Watt’s
    caution in investing--Boulton’s health fails--His depressed
    spirits--Generosity to Watt                                 342–366

                              CHAPTER XVIII.

  Friends of Boulton and Watt--The Lunar Society--Provincial
    scientific societies--Distinguished associates of the
    Lunar Society--Dr. Darwin--Dr. Priestley, his gifts and
    accomplishments--Josiah Wedgwood--Meetings and discussions
    of the Lunar Society--Dr. Priestley’s speculations and
    experiments--Composition of water, Watt and Cavendish--Bleaching
    by chlorine--Sun-pictures--Saint-Fond at Birmingham, his
    descriptions of Watt and Priestley--Decline of the Lunar
    Society                                                     367–385

                               CHAPTER XIX.

  Increasing debasement of the coinage--Punishments for
    counterfeiting--Birmingham coiners--Boulton refuses orders
    for base money--Executes a contract for coin for the East
    India Company--Applies the steam-engine to coining--Improves
    the coining apparatus--Political action in relation to
    base coin--Strikes model coins for inspection of the Privy
    Council--Opposed by the Mint authorities--Presents model coins to
    the king--Executes coinage orders for foreign governments--His
    success--Medalling--Description of the Soho mint--Large
    consumption of copper in coining--Threatened attack on Soho
    by a mob--Boulton executes the new copper coinage for Great
    Britain--Erects the new Government Mint on Tower Hill, and mints
    for foreign countries--Watt’s estimate of Boulton’s improvements
    in coining                                                  386–399

                                CHAPTER XX.

  Prosperity of Soho--Relaxed strain upon Boulton and Watt--Watt’s
    pleasure tours--His interview with the king at Windsor--Matthew
    Robinson Boulton, and James Watt, jun., join their fathers
    in the business--Their character and attainments--Boulton
    and young Watt--Young Boulton’s return from Paris--The
    French revolution--The Birmingham riots--Priestley’s house
    destroyed--Unpopularity of the “Philosophers”--Young Watt and
    the Jacobins--Watt’s flight from Paris--Denounced by Burke--Mr.
    Watt’s fear for his son’s safety--The sons join their fathers in
    partnership--Important services of the young partners--Evasion of
    engine-dues, resistance of the Cornish mining companies--Legal
    proceedings and favourable judgments--Progress of the engine
    business--William Murdock--His valuable services--His engine
    improvements--Return to Soho--Invents gas-lighting--Winsor’s
    wonderful schemes--Murdock’s various inventions--Substitute
    for isinglass, his idea of power wasted in streets, atmospheric
    railway, &c.--His death                                     400–433

                               CHAPTER XXI.

  First attempts to construct steamboats--All attempts fail until
    Watt’s condensing engine invented--The locomotive of Watt and
    Murdock--William Symington--His model locomotive--Symington
    at Edinburgh--Steam-engine for canal-boats proposed by
    Symington--Miller’s paddle-boats--Symington, Miller, and
    Taylor co-operate to produce a steamboat--Sir John Dalrymple’s
    inquiries of Boulton on the same subject--Boulton’s
    reply--Symington’s engine finished and fitted in Miller’s
    boat--Successful experiment--Symington makes another engine,
    further experiments--Miller applies to Boulton and Watt to join
    speculation--Watt’s reply--Symington’s engine for the ‘Charlotte
    Dundas’--Symington’s success frustrated--Fulton and Bell inspect
    the ‘Charlotte Dundas’--Fulton’s steamboat on the Seine--His
    ‘Nautilus’--His application to James Watt, jun.--Boulton’s
    caution, his letter to Lord Hawkesbury--Fulton orders an engine
    from Soho for the ‘Clermont’--Its success--Henry Bell’s steamboat
    ‘Comet’--Development of steam-navigation--First rendered
    practicable through Watt’s inventions                       434–455

                               CHAPTER XXII.

  Watt withdraws from Soho--Boulton continues his interest in
    business--His patent for raising water--The burglary at
    Soho--Sir Walter Scott and Boulton--Watt in retirement--Search
    for investments--Purchases land--Makes a foreign tour--Death of
    Mrs. Keir--Painful bereavements--Death of Dr. Black--Deaths of
    members of the Lunar Society--Watt’s family bereavements--Watt’s
    studies on the inhalation of gas--Gregory Watt, his brilliant
    talents--His friendship with Humphry Davy--His excursions and
    tours--His scientific pursuits--His illness and death--Davy on
    Gregory’s death--Death of Professor Robison--Watt’s estimate
    of Robison--Boulton’s last days, his death and funeral--His
    character--Opinions of his contemporaries, Boswell and others,
    concerning him--Attachment of the workmen--His Mutual Assurance
    Society for the workmen--His powers of organisation--His business
    qualities--His strength, courage, and perseverance in fighting the
    battle of the steam-engine--Watt’s estimate of Boulton--Boulton’s
    generosity                                                  456–487

                              CHAPTER XXIII.

  Watt’s closing years--His pursuits--His machine for copying
    statuary--Medallions of his friends--His garret workshop--Mrs.
    Watt’s rule over her husband--Tenacious retention of his
    faculties--Is consulted by the Glasgow Waterworks Company--His
    visits to Cheltenham and other places--Growth and improvement
    of Glasgow--Watt’s interview with the brothers Hart--His
    conversational powers--Sir Walter Scott’s panegyric on
    Watt--His extensive and varied knowledge--His anecdotal
    powers--Fondness for novels--Description of him by visitors
    at Heathfield--His last improvements in the sculpture-copying
    machine--His last illness and peaceful death--Monumental
    honours--Lord Brougham’s inscription--His qualities and
    genius--His modesty--His close observation--Facts and
    theory--Watt and Smeaton compared--Universal application of
    the steam-engine--Conclusion                                488–514

  INDEX                                                             515


  PORTRAIT OF JAMES WATT                         _to face Title-page_
       „      MATTHEW BOULTON                      _to face page_ 159
  Edward, second Marquis of Worcester                               2
  Ancient Greek Æolipile                                            3
  Branca’s Machine                                                  7
  De Caus’s Steam Apparatus                                         9
  Ruins of Raglan Castle                                           26
  Dionysius Papin                                                  31
  Ancient Paddle-Boat                                              36
  Thomas Savery                                                    41
  Section of Savery’s Paddle-Boat                                  43
  Savery’s Fire-Engine                                             52
  Huel Vor                                                         55
  Newcomen’s House, Dartmouth                                      60
  Newcomen’s Atmospheric Engine                                    67
  Ruins of Wheal Fortune                                           70
  Polgooth                                                         71
  Jonathan Hull’s Steam-Boat                                       73
  Dartmouth from the Harbour                                       76
  Greenock and the Clyde, 1865                                     78
  Greenock Harbour, 1768                                           79
  Crawfordsburn House, Greenock                                    80
  James Watt Tavern, Greenock                                      87
  Trongate, Glasgow                                                97
  Inner Quadrangle, Glasgow College                               107
  Isometric View of Glasgow College, 1693                         108
  The Broomielaw in 1760                                          116
  Professor Robison                                               117
  Papin’s Digester                                                120
  The Newcomen Model                                              121
  Watt’s House, Delftfield Lane                                   126
  Watt’s first Improved Apparatus                                 130
  Dr. Joseph Black                                                132
  Kinneil House                                                   142
  Outhouse behind Kinneil                                         148
  Hamilton Bridge                                                 156
  Port Glasgow                                                    158
  Birmingham                                                      160
  Soho Manufactory                                                169
  Soho House                                                      177
  Watt’s House, Harper’s Hill                                     214
  Map of United Mines District                                    231
  Watt’s Pumping-Engine for Mines                                 236
  Redruth, High Street                                            238
  Cardozos Pumping-Engine                                         260
  United Mines District and St. Day                               261
  Cosgarne House                                                  275
  Entrance to ditto                                               284
  The “Waggon and Horses,” Handsworth                             285
  The Crank as applied in the Foot-Lathe                          287
  Interior of the “Waggon and Horses”                             288
  Old Engine-House, Dalcoath                                      306
  Sun-and-Planet Motion                                           309
  “Old Bess” Engine                                               326
  The parallel Motion                                             334
  The Governor                                                    335
  Polgooth Engine-House                                           339
  Double Acting Engine, Albion Mill                               355
  Dr. Priestley                                                   370
  Site of Soho Mint                                               399
  Burning of Dr. Priestley’s House                                411
  William Murdock                                                 422
  Murdock’s House, Handsworth                                     433
  Miller’s Triple Vessel                                          437
  Symington’s first Steamboat-Engine                              441
  Miller’s Experimental Steamboat                                 442
  Machinery of the ‘Charlotte Dundas’                             447
  The “Comet” passing Dumbarton                                   453
  Watt’s House, Heathfield                                        456
  Boulton’s Monument in Handsworth Church                         478
  The Garret at Heathfield                                        494
  Water-Pipe in the Bed of the Clyde                              497
  Watt’s Chapel and Monument, Handsworth Church                   508
  Handsworth Church                                               514




[By T. D. Scott after Vandyck.]]






When Matthew Boulton entered into partnership with James Watt, he gave
up the ormolu business in which he had before been principally engaged.
He had been accustomed to supply George III. with articles of this
manufacture, but ceased to wait upon the King for orders after embarking
in his new enterprise. Some time after, he appeared at the Royal Levee
and was at once recognised by the King. “Ha! Boulton,” said he, “it is
long since we have seen you at Court. Pray, what business are you now
engaged in?” “I am engaged, your Majesty, in the production of a commodity
which is the desire of kings.” “And what is that? what is that?” asked
the King. “POWER, your Majesty,” replied Boulton, who proceeded to give
a description of the great uses to which the steam-engine was capable of
being applied.

If the theory of James Mill[1] be true, that government is founded on
the desire which exists among men to secure and enjoy the products of
labour, by whatsoever means produced, probably the answer of Boulton
to George III. was not far from correct. In the infancy of nations this
desire manifested itself in the enforcement of labour by one class upon
another, in the various forms of slavery and serfdom. To evade the more
onerous and exhausting kinds of bodily toil, men were impelled to exercise
their ingenuity in improving old tools and inventing new ones,--while, to
increase production, they called the powers of nature to their aid. They
tamed the horse, and made him their servant; they caught the winds as they
blew, and the waters as they fell, and applied their powers to the driving
of mills and machines of various kinds.

But there was a power greater by far than that of horses, wind, or
water,--a power of which poets and philosophers had long dreamt,--capable
of being applied alike to the turning of mills, the raising of water, the
rowing of ships, the driving of wheel-carriages, and the performance of
labour in its severest forms. As early as the thirteenth century, Roger
Bacon described this great new power in terms which, interpreted by the
light of the present day, could only apply to the power of Steam. He
anticipated that “chariots may be made so as to be moved with incalculable
force, without any beast drawing them,” and that “engines of navigation
might be made without oarsmen, so that the greatest river and sea ships,
with only one man to steer them, may sail swifter than if they were fully
manned.” But Bacon was a seer rather than an expounder, a philosophic poet
rather than an inventor; and it was left to men of future times to find
out the practical methods of applying the wonderful power which he had
imagined and foretold.

    [1] Article “Government,” in ‘Encyclopædia Britannica.’

The enormous power latent in water exposed to heat had long been known.
Its discovery must have been almost contemporaneous with that of fire.
The expansive force of steam would be obvious on setting the first
partially-closed pipkin upon the fire. If closed, the lid would be blown
off; and even if the vessel were of iron, it would soon burst with
appalling force. Was it possible to render so furious and apparently
unmanageable an agent, docile and tractable? Even in modern times, the
explosive force of steam could only be compared to that of gunpowder;
and it is a curious fact, that both De Hautefeuille and Papin proposed to
employ gunpowder in preference to steam in driving a piston in a cylinder,
considering it to be the more manageable power of the two.

Although it appears from the writings of the Greek physician, Hero, who
flourished at Alexandria more than a century before Christ, that steam
was well known to the ancients, it was employed by them merely as a toy,
or as a means of exciting the wonder of the credulous. In his treatise on
Pneumatics, Hero gives descriptions of various methods of employing steam
or heated air for the purpose of producing apparently magical effects;
from which we infer that the agency of heat was employed by the heathen
priests in the performance of their rites. By one of the devices which he
describes, water was apparently changed into wine; by another, the temple
doors were opened by fire placed on the sacrificial altar; while by a
third, the sacrificial vessel was so contrived as to flow only when the
money of the votary was cast into it. Another ingenious device consisted
in the method employed to pour out libations. Upon the altar-fire being
kindled, the air in the interior became expanded and, pressing upon the
surface of the liquid which it contained, forced it up a connecting-pipe,
and so out of the sacrificial cup. The libation was made, and the people
cried, “A miracle!” But Hero knew the trick, and explained the arrangement
by which it was accomplished: it forms the subject of his eleventh

The most interesting of the other devices described by Hero is the
whirling Æolipile, or ball of Æolus, which, though but a toy, possessed
the properties of a true steam-engine, and was most probably the first
ever invented. As Hero’s book professes to be, for the most part, but
a collection of the devices handed down by former writers, and as he
does not lay claim to its invention, it is probable the Æolipile may
have been known long before his time. The machine consisted of a hollow
globe of metal, moving on its axis, and communicating with a caldron of
water placed underneath. The globe was provided with one or more tubes
projecting from it, closed at the ends, but open on one side. When a fire
was lit under the caldron, and the steam was raised, it filled the globe,
and, projecting itself against the air through the openings in the tubes,
the reactive force thus produced caused the globe to spin round upon its
axis “as if it were animated from within by a living spirit.”[2]

The mechanical means by which these various objects were accomplished,
as explained by Hero, show that the ancients were acquainted with the
ordinary expedients for communicating motion, such as the wheel and
axle, spur-wheels, toothed pinions and sectors, the lever-beam, and other
well-known expedients; while they also knew of the cylinder and piston,
the three-way cock, slide-valves and valve-clacks,[3] and many other
ingenious mechanical details which have been reinvented in modern times.

    [2] The principle of the Æolipile is the same as that embodied
      in Avery and Ruthven’s engines for the production of rotary
      motion. “These engines,” says Bourne, “are more expensive in
      steam than ordinary engines, and travel at an inconvenient
      speed; but in other respects they are quite as effectual, and
      their construction is extremely simple and inexpensive.”

[Illustration: BRANCA’S MACHINE.]

Hero’s book lay hidden in manuscript and buried in libraries, until the
revival of learning in Italy in the sixteenth century, when a translation
of it appeared at Bologna in 1547. By that time printing had been
invented; and the multiplication of copies being thereby rendered easy,
the book was soon brought under the notice of inquiring men throughout
Europe. The work must, indeed, have excited an extraordinary degree of
interest; in proof of which it may be mentioned that eight different
editions, in different languages, were published within a century. The
minds of the curious and the scientific were thus directed to the subject
of steam as a motive power. But for a long time they never got beyond
the idea of Hero’s Æolipile, though they endeavoured to apply the rotary
motion produced by it in different ways. Thus, a German writer suggested
that it should be used to turn spits, instead of turnspit dogs; and
Branca, the Italian architect, used the steam jet projected from a brazen
head to drive an apparatus contrived by him for pounding drugs. The jet
forced round the vanes of a wheel, so as to produce a rotary motion, and
this, being communicated to other wheels, set in motion a rod and stamper,
after the manner shown in the preceding cut.

    [3] See Bennet Woodcroft’s ‘Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria,’
      from the original Greek. London, 1851.

Solomon de Caus was another of the speculative inquirers whose attention
was drawn to the subject of steam by the publication of Hero’s book. De
Caus was a native of Normandy, and for some time studied the profession
of an architect in Italy; from whence he returned to France early in the
seventeenth century. Religious persecution was then raging, and, being
a Protestant, he was glad to take refuge from it in England. He entered
the service of the Prince of Wales, by whom he was for a time employed
in designing grottoes, fountains, and hydraulic ornaments for the Palace
Gardens at Richmond. While occupied in that capacity he gave lessons
in design to the Princess Elizabeth; and on her marriage to the Elector
Palatine he accompanied her to Heidelberg, to take charge of the Castle
gardens there. It was while residing at Heidelberg that De Caus wrote
his well-known book on hydraulics, which was published at Frankfort in

    [4] Les Raisons des Forces Mouvantes, avec diverses machines tant
      utiles que plaisantes, &c., par Solomon de Caus, Ingénieur et
      Architecte du Roy. Frankfort, 1615.

One of De Caus’s expedients for raising water consisted of an apparatus in
which he proposed to employ the expansive power of steam for the purpose.
In Hero’s book it is shown how a column of water may be thrown up by means
of compressed air; and De Caus merely proposed to employ steam instead of
air. His apparatus was very simple. It consisted of a spherical vessel
fitted with two pipes, one of them provided with a cock and funnel; the
other, which reached down to near the bottom of the vessel, being open at
the top to the external air. When the vessel was filled with water and
a fire lit underneath, the water was forced up the open tube in a jet,
greater or less in proportion to the elasticity of the steam. When both
tubes were tightly closed, so that neither steam nor water could escape,
the heat, says De Caus, would shortly cause a compression from within so
violent that “the ball will burst in pieces, with a noise like a petard.”


It will be observed that there was little mechanical contrivance, and
no practical use in this apparatus; it merely furnished an illustration
of the extraordinary force of pent-up steam, and that was all. Though
De Caus made many experiments with his steam-vessel, he never succeeded
in making--if, indeed, he ever attempted to make--a working steam-engine
of any kind. It is not improbable that he was dismayed, as others were,
by the apparent violence of the imprisoned monster; and it needed a more
ingenious head than his to contrive a method of rendering him docile, and
making him go quietly in harness.[5]

    [5] De Caus eventually returned to France, and was appointed
      engineer to the King. During the later years of his life he
      was employed in carrying out plans for the better supply of
      Paris with water. The story so often told of De Caus having
      been shut up in the Bicêtre turns out to be a fiction. Though
      a Huguenot, he was not persecuted by Richelieu, but was, on
      the contrary, employed by him; and in 1624 he dedicated to
      that prelate his treatise entitled ‘Horologes Solitaires.’ Mr.
      Charles Read, editor of several interesting memoirs of early
      French Protestants, has recently brought to light and published
      in the ‘Gazette des Tribunaux’ the proofs of the patronage of
      De Caus by Richelieu, and reproduced the original documents,
      which he discovered slumbering in the dust of the State Records
      at Paris. In 1621 De Caus is found proposing to Louis XIII. to
      adopt measures for cleansing Paris and the faubourgs of dirt and
      uncleanness, by a system of reservoirs established at elevated
      points, and by fountains at various places which he indicated.
      The king and his council sent the propositions to the chief
      magistrate of Paris, and Mr. Read transcribes the deliberation
      which took place on the subject at the City Council, as handed
      down in the records deposited in the Imperial Archives. De Caus
      died at Paris, and was buried in the church of La Trinité in
      February, 1626.

It is probable that the first contriver of a working steam-engine was
Edward, second Marquis of Worcester, one of the first and most illustrious
of a long line of unfortunate inventors. The career of that nobleman--born
though he was to high rank and great estate--was chequered and sad in no
ordinary degree. Edward Somerset was the eldest son of Henry Lord Herbert,
afterwards Earl of Worcester, and consequently heir to that title. He was
born in London in 1601. His early years were principally spent at Raglan
Castle, his father’s country seat, where his education was carefully
attended to. In the course of his pupilage he made occasional visits to
the continent, accompanied by his tutor, for the purpose of acquiring
that degree of polish and culture considered necessary for a person of
his social position. On the accession of his father to the Earldom of
Worcester, in 1627, Edward became Lord Herbert by courtesy; and in the
following year he married, and went to reside at Raglan Castle.

From an early period of his life Lord Herbert took especial pleasure in
mechanical studies, and in the course of his foreign tours he visited and
examined the famous works of construction abroad; for as yet there were
none such in England. On settling down at Raglan, he proceeded to set
up a laboratory, or workshop, wherein to indulge his mechanical tastes,
and perhaps to while away the tedium of a country life. To assist him in
his labours, he engaged a clever foreign mechanic, named Caspar Kaltoff,
who remained in his service for many years, and materially helped him in
his various contrivances. Among the works executed by Lord Herbert and
his assistant at Raglan, was the hydraulic apparatus by means of which
the castle was supplied with water. From an incidental reference to the
“water-works” by a contemporary writer, we learn that they consisted of a
series of engines and wheels, by means of which water was raised through
pipes to a cistern placed on the summit of the central tower.[6] It is
probable that the planning and construction of these works induced Lord
Herbert to prosecute the study of hydraulics, and to enter upon that
series of experiments as to the power of steam which eventually led to
the contrivance of his “Water-commanding Engine.”

In pursuits and studies such as these, Lord Herbert spent about seven
years at Raglan Castle. But his wife dying in 1635, the place became
connected in his mind with too painful associations, and he shortly after
left it to reside in London. On his arrival there, he proceeded to put to
the practical test a plan of perpetual motion which he had long studied,
and now thought he had brought to perfection. He accordingly had his
self-moving wheel[7] set up in the Tower; but though it moved, its motion
did not prove perpetual, and it shortly dropped out of sight, to be no
more heard of.

    [6] Dr. Bayly, in his ‘Apothegms’ (1682), p. 87, describes the
      fright given to some Puritan visitors on the occasion of their
      searching Raglan Castle for arms, the Marquis of Worcester
      being a known Papist. “Having carried them up and down the
      castle, his lordship at length brought them over a high bridge
      that arched over the moat between the castle and the great
      tower, wherein the Lord Herbert had lately contrived certain
      water-works, which, when the several engines and wheels were set
      agoing, much quantity of water through the hollow conveyances
      of the aqueducts was to be let down from the top of an high
      tower.” When all was ready for the surprise, the water was let
      in, and it made such a hideous and fearful noise by reason of
      the hollowness of the tower, and the neighbouring echoes of
      the castle, that the men stood amazed and terror-struck. At
      this point up came a man staring and running, who exclaimed,
      “Look to yourselves, my masters, for the lions are got loose.”
      Whereupon the Puritans fled down the narrow staircase in such
      haste that they lost footing and fell, tumbling one over the
      other, and never halted until they had got the castle out of
      sight. Mr. Dircks, in his able and exhaustive ‘Life, Times, and
      Scientific Labours of the Marquis of Worcester,’ London, 1865,
      says that this hydraulic apparatus “probably depended for its
      operation on the influence of heat from burning fuel acting on
      a suitably constructed boiler, and so arranged as to be able
      to apply the expansive force of steam to the driving of water
      through vertical pipes to a considerable elevation.” But it does
      not seem to us that the facts stated are sufficient to warrant
      this assumption.

    [7] Mr. Dircks says “it was a machine consisting of a wheel 14
      feet in diameter, carrying forty weights of forty pounds each,
      and is supposed to have rotated on an axle supported on two
      pillars or upright frames,” as indicated in the ‘Century of
      Inventions,’ Art. 56.

After the lapse of four years, Lord Herbert again married, taking to
wife the Lady Margaret, second daughter of the Earl of Thomond. In the
year after his second marriage, the celebrated Long Parliament began
its sittings. Questions of great public import were agitating the minds
of thinking men, and the nation was gradually becoming divided into two
hostile parties, soon to be arrayed against each other in deadly strife. A
Royalist and a Roman Catholic like his father, Lord Herbert at once ranged
himself on the side of the King. On the outbreak of the Civil War, we find
both father and son actively employed in mustering forces, and preparing
to hold the western counties against the Parliament. Raglan Castle was
strongly garrisoned, and fortifications were thrown up around it, so as
to render it secure against assault. The Earl, now Marquis of Worcester,
was appointed Generalissimo of the Western Forces, while his son, Lord
Herbert, was made General of South Wales. From this office he was shortly
after called by the King, who, creating him Earl of Glamorgan, despatched
him on a mission to Ireland, with the object of stirring up the loyalists
of that kingdom, and inducing them to come to his help. This delicate
office he is said to have performed with more zeal than discretion.
Indeed, the studious habits of his early life must in a measure have
unfitted him for the conduct of so important an affair; and the bungle
he made of it was such that the King felt himself under the necessity of
repudiating the acts which the Earl had done in his name.

It is unnecessary that we should follow the fortunes of the house of
Raglan in the course of the civil war. Suffice it to say that the King’s
cause was utterly lost; that Raglan Castle was besieged, taken, and
dismantled; that the Marquis of Worcester, having advanced to the King
at different times as much as 122,500_l._, had completely impoverished
himself; and that when the Earl succeeded to his father’s title, and
became second Marquis of Worcester, in 1646, he inherited an exhausted
exchequer, a confiscated estate, and a ruined home. The services he
had rendered to the King were remembered against him; and to escape the
vengeance of his political enemies he took refuge in France. There he
lived in poverty and in exile for a period of about five years. At length,
drawn to England by the powerful attractions of wife and family, and
probably also commissioned to perform a service for the exiled Charles
II., the Marquis secretly visited London in 1655, where he was shortly
after detected, apprehended, and imprisoned in the Tower. He sought
and found solace, during his confinement, in study and contemplation,
reverting to his early experiments in mechanics; and he occupied the long
and weary hours in committing to paper descriptions of his many ingenious
devices, which he afterwards published in his ‘Century of Inventions.’ The
Marquis’s old and skilled mechanic, Caspar Kaltoff, continued faithful to
him in his adversity, and was permitted to hold free communication with
him; from which we infer that his imprisonment was not of a very rigid

After lying in the Tower for about two years, the Marquis was liberated
on bail, in October, 1654, when he proceeded to take steps to erect his
long-contemplated Water-commanding Engine. Even while a prisoner, we find
him negotiating with the then owner of Vauxhall for its purchase, with
a view to the establishment there of a school of skilled industry; thus
anticipating by nearly two centuries the School of Mines and Manufactures
at South Kensington. In the month preceding his enlargement we find
Hartlib writing to the Hon. Robert Boyle,--“The Earl of Worcester is
buying Fauxhall from Mr. Trenchard, to bestow the use of that house upon
Caspar Calchoff and his son as long as they shall live, for he intends to
make it a College of Artizans.”[8] His main difficulty, however, consisted
in raising the necessary means for carrying his excellent project into
effect. He was, indeed, so reduced in his circumstances as to be under
the necessity of petitioning his political enemies for the bare means
of living; and we find Cromwell, in the course of the year following his
liberation from prison, issuing a warrant for the payment to him of three
pounds a week “for his better maintenance.” The Marquis also tried the
experiment of levying contributions from his friends; but they were, for
the most part, as poor as himself. He next tried the wealthy men of the
Parliamentary party, and succeeded in obtaining several advances of money
from Colonel Copley, who took an active interest in the prosecution of
various industrial undertakings.[9] The following letter from the Marquis
to Copley shows the straits to which he was reduced:--

  “DEAR FRIEND,--I knowe not with what face to desire a curtesie
  from you, since I have not yet payed you the five powndes, and
  the mayne businesse soe long protracted, whereby my reality and
  kindnesse should with thankfullnesse appeare; for though the
  least I intende you is to make up the somme already promised to
  a thousand powndes yearly, or a share ammounting to four more,
  which, to nominate before the perfection of the woorke, were but
  an _individuum vagum_, and, therefore, I deferre it, and upon
  noe other score. Yet in this interim, my disappointments are soe
  great, as that I am forced to begge, if you could possible, eyther
  to helpe me with tenne powndes to this bearer, or to make use of
  the coache, and to goe to Mr. Clerke, and if he could this day
  help me to fifty powndes, then to paye your selfe the five powndes
  I owe you out of them. The Alderman has taken three days’ time
  to consider of it. Pardon the great trouble I give you, which I
  doubt not but in time to deserve, by really appearing
                                 “Your most thankfull friend,

  “_28th March, 1656._
  “To my honoured friend, Collonel CHRISTOPHER COPPLEY, these.”

The original of this letter is endorsed “My Lord of Worcester’s letter
about my share in his engine,” from which it would appear that the Marquis
induced his friends to advance him money on the promise of a certain
proportion of shares in the undertaking. He also pressed his invention
upon the notice of Government, representing that he was in a position
to do his Highness the Protector “more service than any one subject of
his three nations.” But neither the Protector nor his Ministers took any
further notice of the Marquis or his project. It is probable that they
regarded him as a bore, and his water-commanding engine as the mere dream
of a projector.

    [8] ‘Weld’s Royal Society,’ i. 53.

    [9] ‘Industrial Biography,’ p. 57.

The Marquis himself continued to be as confident as ever of the ultimate
success of his scheme. He believed that it would yet realise him an
immense fortune. Writing of the engine to the Earl of Lotherdale, he
described it as “the greatest invention for profit that I ever yet heard
of vouchsafed to a man, especially so unworthy and ignorant as I am.” But
the Marquis was not so humble as he affected to be, believing in his heart
that he had invented, without exception, the most wonderful machine of
the age. Still it remained a mere project. Without the means of erecting
an engine, it promised to remain such; and all his efforts to raise the
necessary funds had thus far proved unavailing.

The Restoration of Charles II., in 1660, revived his hopes. Now that the
King enjoyed his own again, the Marquis believed that he, too, would come
into possession of the means for carrying out his project. For thirteen
years he had lived in exile, in prison, and in poverty: but brighter days
had dawned at last; and he indulged in the hope that compensation would
at length be made to him for his sufferings in the cause of the Stuarts,
and that he would now bask in the sunshine of Royal favour. He made all
haste to represent his case to the king, and to claim restitution for his
heavy losses in the late war. But there were thousands of like suppliants
all over the kingdom, and redress came slowly. The Marquis was, however,
shortly put in possession of such parts of his estates as had not been
sold by the Protector; but he found them for the most part cleared of
their timber, and comparatively valueless. The castle at Raglan was in
ruins. He himself was heavily burdened with debt, and his creditors were
becoming increasingly importunate for money. It was thus long before he
could shake himself clear of his embarrassments, and devote himself to the
great object of his life, the prosecution of his water-commanding engine.

One of his first cares, on the partial recovery of his property,
was to obtain a legal protection for his inventions; and in the year
following the Restoration we find him taking out a patent for four of his
schemes,--a watch or clock, guns or pistols, an engine to give security
to a coach, and a boat to sail against wind and tide. In the session of
Parliament, 1662–3, he obtained an Act securing to himself the profits
of the water-commanding engine. About the same time he gave to the world
his famous ‘Century,’[10] which contains his own account of his various
inventions. In the second dedication of the book to the members of both
Houses of Parliament he states that he had already expended the large sum
of 10,000_l._ on experiments; but he professed that he esteemed himself
sufficiently rewarded by the passing of “the Act of the Water-commanding
Engine,” and, his debts once paid, he intended to devote the rest of
his life to the service of his King and country. The ‘Century’ is a mere
summary of things alleged to have been tried and perfected, conveyed in
vague and mysterious language, and calculated rather to excite wonder
than to furnish information. The descriptions were unaccompanied by plans
or drawings, so that we can only surmise the means by which he proposed
to carry his schemes into effect. It is possible that he purposely left
the descriptions of his inventions vague, in order that he might not
be anticipated in their application; for it is certain that at the time
the book was written the Marquis had not taken out his first patent, nor
obtained the Act securing to him the profits of his engine.

    [10] ‘A Century of the Names and Scantlings of such Inventions
      as at present I can call to mind to have tried and perfected,
      which (my former Notes being lost) I have, at the instance of
      a powerful Friend, endeavoured now, in the year 1655, to set
      these down in such a way as may sufficiently instruct me to put
      any of them in practice.’ London, 1663.

There can, however, be no doubt that, vague and mysterious though the
‘Scantlings’ be, they indicate a knowledge of mechanical principles
considerably in advance of the age, as well as a high degree of
mechanical ingenuity. The hundred Articles into which the book is divided
contain suggestions, in shorthand descriptions, of things so various
as ship-destroying machines, telegraphs, combination and escutcheon
locks,[11] improvements in fire-arms, universal alphabets, seals and
watches, various kinds of cipher, a boat rowing against wind and tide,
automata, and mechanical appliances of different kinds, including
the “stupendious and semi-omnipotent” engine. Some of them read like
descriptions of conjuring tricks, such as the artificial bird, the hour
water-ball, the flying man, the brazen head, the dicing-box, and various
automata. Others are full of prophetic insight, and contain anticipations
of mechanical marvels, which, however wonderful they may at that time
have appeared, have since been fully realised. The style in which the
treatise was written, however, presented so remarkable a contrast to the
contemporary writings of Newton, Boyle, Pascal, Guericke, and others,
that it is not improbable it had the effect of prejudicing the minds of
scientific men against the writer, and led them to regard his schemes
as those of a wild projector, and hence to treat his propositions with
neglect, if not with contumely.

    [11] The writer of the elaborate article “Lock,” in the supplement
      to the ‘Penny Cyclopædia’ (ii. 217), in describing the
      _combination lock_, says: “The Marquis of Worcester, in whose
      ‘Century of Inventions’ several different kinds of lock, which
      lay claim to the most marvellous properties, are enumerated,
      would appear, from his 72nd article, to have devised an
      improvement on this apparatus; as he refers to ‘an escutcheon
      to be placed before any of these locks,’ one of the properties
      of which he describes as being that ‘the owner, though a woman,
      may, with her delicate hand, vary the ways of coming to open
      the lock ten millions of times beyond the knowledge of the
      smith that made it, or of me who invented it.’ The details
      of this invention are not given; but in the third volume of
      the ‘Transactions of the Society of Arts,’ pp. 160–5, is an
      escutcheon of similar character, invented by Mr. Marshall, and
      rewarded by the Society in 1784. The details of this ingenious
      contrivance are fully given in the volume referred to.”

So soon as the Marquis had become possessed of the requisite funds, he
proceeded to erect an engine at Vauxhall to illustrate the uses of his
principal invention. He was assisted, as before, by his old workman,
Caspar Kaltoff. It is probable that the engine was erected by the
beginning of 1663; for in the course of that year M. Sorbière paid his
visit to England, and found the Marquis’s “hydraulic machine” at work.
He describes it as capable of raising, by the strength of one man only,
within a minute of time, four large buckets of water to a height of forty
feet, through a pipe eight inches in diameter. He proceeds to compare
it with another machine at Somerset House, worked by one or two horses,
which he considers the more effective machine of the two.[12] This account
of the Marquis’s invention is confirmed by another brief description of
it, which occurs in the narrative of the travels of Cosmo, Grand Duke
of Tuscany, in England, some years later. Count Magalotti, the narrator,
says, “It raises water more than forty geometrical feet, by the power of
one man only; and in a very short space of time will draw up four vessels
of water through a tube or channel not more than a span in width, on
which account it is considered to be of greater service to the public than
the other machine at Somerset House.” It will thus be observed that the
Duke’s secretary entertained a different opinion from that expressed by
M. Sorbière as to the comparative merits of the two engines spoken of.

    [12] His words are these:--“One of the most curious things that
      I wished to see was an hydraulic machine which the Marquis of
      Worcester has invented, and of which he is making trial. I went
      with all speed to Fox-hall, on the other side of the Thames, a
      little below Lambeth, which is the Palace of the Archbishop of
      Canterbury, in sight of London. This machine will raise to the
      height of forty feet, by the strength of one man only, and in a
      minute of time, four large buckets of water through a pipe of
      eight inches. But what will be the most powerful help to the
      wants of the public is the work which is performed by another
      ingeniously-constructed machine, which can be seen raised on a
      wooden tower on the top of Somerset House, which supplies that
      part of the town with water, but with some difficulty, and a
      smaller quantity than could be desired. It is somewhat like our
      Samaritane water-work on the Pont Neuf; and on the raising-pump
      they have added an impulsion which increases the force; but for
      what we obtain by the power of the Seine, they employ one or two
      horses, which incessantly turn the machine, as the river changes
      its course twice a day, and the spring or wheels which are
      used for the ebbing tide would not do for the flow.”--Sorbière,
      ‘Relation d’un Voyage en Angleterre.’

It is worthy of remark that the incidental accounts of these two
foreigners contain almost the only contemporary information we possess
as to the character of the Marquis’s invention. English writers of the
time are almost entirely silent about it; and when Dr. Hooke, the learned
Secretary of the Royal Society, refers to the contrivance, it is in a
tone of ridicule rather than of praise. Writing to Mr. Boyle, in 1667,
he characterises the definition or description of the water-commanding
engine as “so purely romantic that it would serve one rarely to fill up
half a dozen pages in the ‘History of Fortunatus his Wishing Cap.’” ... “I
was,” he adds, “since my return to London to see this engine, when I found
Caltrop [Kaltoff], his chief engineer, to laugh at it; and as far as I was
able to see it, it seemed one of the perpetual-motion fallacies; of which
kind Caltrop himself, and two or three others that I know, are labouring
at this time in vain to make, but after several ways; and nothing but
costly experience will make them desist.”[13]

    [13] The Works of the Hon. Robert Boyle, v. 532.

It is difficult to gather from the statements of Sorbière and Cosmo de
Medici what was the precise nature of the Marquis’s hydraulic apparatus.
There is no mention whatever of steam, either in their accounts or in that
of Dr. Hooke; but the latter does not seem to have been allowed to examine
the details of the machine. From the mention by Sorbière of the “four
large buckets of water,” and by Cosmo’s secretary, of “four vessels of
water,” it might possibly have been only an improved hydraulic apparatus,
worked by a man instead of a horse. In order, therefore, to obtain a clue
to the real nature of the machine we find it necessary to resort to the
Marquis’s ‘Scantlings’ for his own account of its action, and we find it
in article No. 68, which runs as follows:--

  “68. An admirable and most forcible way to drive up water by
  fire, not by drawing or sucking it upwards, for that must be as
  the Philosopher calleth it, _Intra sphæram activitatis_, which
  is but at such a distance. But this way hath no Bounder, if the
  Vessels be strong enough; for I have taken a piece of a whole
  Cannon, whereof the end was burst, and filled it three-quarters
  full of water, stopping and scruing up the broken end; as also
  the Touch-hole; and making a constant fire under it, within
  twenty-four hours it burst and made a great crack: So that having
  a way to make my Vessels, so that they are strengthened by the
  force within them, and the one to fill after the other, I have
  seen the water run like a constant Fountaine-stream forty foot
  high; one Vessel of water rarified by fire driveth up forty of
  cold water. And a man that tends the work is but to turn two
  Cocks, that one Vessel of water being consumed, another begins to
  force and refill with cold water, and so successively, the fire
  being tended and kept constant, which the self-same Person may
  likewise abundantly perform in the interim between the necessity
  of turning the said Cocks.”

From this account we gather that the Marquis had contrived a plan for
raising water by the expansive force of steam, after the manner of De
Caus, but with important modifications and improvements. It had obviously
occurred to him, that by generating the steam in a separate vessel,
and conveying it by means of a suitable pipe to a second closed vessel,
he could thereby make it expel the water which the latter contained by
pressing upon its surface, as in De Caus’s apparatus. The admission of
the steam could easily be regulated by the turning of two cocks; one to
admit the steam from the boiler, and the other to allow the exit of the
water. On the expulsion of the water, and the production of a vacuum by
the condensation of the contained steam, the empty vessel would at once be
refilled by the action of the atmospheric pressure on the surface of the
water to be raised. It is probable that this engine was--in the absence of
a feed-pump, of which there is no mention--provided with two boilers as
well as with the two cisterns in which the “forcing and refilling” went
on, so as to maintain the “constant fountain-stream” which the Marquis
describes. But the precise arrangement of parts by which he accomplished
this object must ever remain a matter of mere conjecture.

We have other distinct indications of a steam-engine in the Marquis’s
98th, 99th, and 100th Articles, which ought to be read in connection with
the 68th Article: they run as follows:--

  “98. An Engine so contrived, that working the _Primum mobile_
  forward or backward, upward or downward, circularly or cornerwise,
  to and fro, streight, upright or downright, yet the pretended
  Operation continueth, and advanceth none of the motions
  above-mentioned, hindering, much less stopping the other; but
  unanimously, and with harmony agreeing they all augment and
  contribute strength unto the intended work and operation: And
  therefore I call this _A Semi-omnipotent Engine_, and do intend
  that a Model thereof be buried with me.”

  “99. How to make one pound weight to raise an hundred as high as
  one pound falleth, and yet the hundred pound descending doth what
  nothing less than one hundred pound can effect.”

  “100. Upon so potent a help as these two last-mentioned
  Inventions a Waterwork is by many years experience and labour so
  advantageously by me contrived, that a Child’s force bringeth
  up an hundred foot high an incredible quantity of water, even
  two foot Diameter, so naturally, that the work will not be heard
  even into the next Room; and with so great ease and Geometrical
  Symmetry, that though it work day and night from one end of the
  year to the other, it will not require forty shillings reparation
  to the whole Engine, nor hinder ones day-work. And I may boldly
  call it _The most stupendious Work in the whole world_: not
  onely with little charge to drein all sorts of Mines, and furnish
  Cities with water, though never so high seated, as well to keep
  them sweet, running through several streets, and so performing
  the work of Scavengers, as well as furnishing the Inhabitants
  with sufficient water for their private occasions; but likewise
  supplying Rivers with sufficient to maintaine and make them
  portable from Towne to Towne, and for the bettering of Lands all
  the way it runs; with many more advantageous, and yet greater
  effects of Profit, Admiration, and Consequence. So that deservedly
  I deem this Invention to crown my Labours, to reward my Expences,
  and make my Thoughts acquiesce in way of further Inventions: This
  making up the whole Century, and preventing any further trouble to
  the Reader for the present, meaning to leave to Posterity a Book,
  wherein under each of these Heads the means to put in execution
  and visible trial all and every of these Inventions, with the
  shape and form of all things belonging to them, shall be Printed
  by Brass-plates.”

The promised book was never written, and we are accordingly left in
uncertainty as to the precise character of the Marquis’s inventions. That
he had a full conviction of the great powers of steam, as well as of its
manageability and extensive practical uses, is sufficiently clear; but
that he ever erected any engines after the plans thus summarily described
is matter of considerable doubt. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding
the number and variety of his suggested inventions, not a single model
or machine constructed by the Marquis or his skilled workmen has been
preserved. Mr. Dircks, who has collected and published all that is
likely to be brought to light relative to the life and works of the
Marquis, and has laboured at his task with a rare love and enthusiasm
for his subject, naturally expresses surprise that “none of the many
cabinets of the curious seem to have possessed any model or work of his
production; not even the indefatigable Tradescant, although his museum
was at Lambeth.”[14] But it is probable, as we have already observed,
that the Marquis’s ‘Scantlings,’ notwithstanding his statement that he
had “tried and perfected” the inventions of which he speaks, were rather
the foreshadowings of things to come than the descriptions of things
that had actually been executed. Thus, no one pretends that the Marquis
ever constructed a steamboat, and yet his description of a vessel “to
work itself against wind and tide, yea, both, without the help of man
or beast,” can apply to nothing else.[15] “This engine,” said he, “is
applicable to any vessel or boat whatsoever, without being therefore made
on purpose, and worketh these effects: it roweth, it draweth, it driveth,
(if need be) to pass London Bridge against the stream at low-water, and a
boat laying at anchor, the engine may be used for loading or unloading.”
But it would not be possible for any one to make an engine after the
description given in the ‘Scantlings;’ and to a generation unacquainted
with the powers of steam, his suggestions would be altogether without

    [14] Dircks’s ‘Life and Times,’ &c., 356.

The strongest evidence which could be adduced of the ambiguity of the
Marquis’s ‘Articles’ is to be found in the fact that the various ingenious
writers who have given plans of his supposed engine have represented it
in widely different forms. Farey assumes that it worked by the expansive
force of steam; Bourne, that it worked by condensation and atmospheric
pressure; Dircks infers that it included such ingenious expedients
as valves and even a four-way cock, worked by a lever-handle; Stuart,
that it contained a cylinder and piston, and was, in fact, a complete
high-pressure lever-engine. Again, the drawings of the various writers
on engineering who have attempted to reproduce the engine--of Stuart,
Galloway, Millington, and Dircks--differ in essential respects.

    [15] Mr. Woodcroft is, however, of opinion that the Marquis’s
      contrivance was but a boat with paddle-wheels, with an axis
      across it, which axis was turned by the action of the stream
      on the paddles, and thus wound up a rope and dragged the
      boat onward to the other end of the rope fixed by an anchor;
      certainly a more clumsy and less notable contrivance than that
      of a steamboat.

When Watt was on one occasion asked for his opinion as to the precise
nature of the Marquis’s contrivance, his answer was, that the descriptions
given were too obscure to enable any definite opinion to be formed on
the subject; but he thought that the expansive power of steam was the
principle on which the engine worked. He added, that no one could possibly
erect an engine after the Marquis’s ‘Scantlings,’ and that any inventor
desirous of constructing a steam-engine would have to begin again at the
beginning. But though the Marquis did not leave the steam-engine in such
a state as to be taken up and adopted as a practicable working power, he
at least advanced it several important steps. In this world, it is not
given to man to finish; to persevere, to improve, and to advance, are all
that can be hoped for; and these are enough for the real philosopher.

Little remains to be told of the unfortunate Marquis’s history. His
water-commanding engine proved of no service to him. It only increased
his embarrassments by involving him in further debts. The Restoration,
though it gave him back his estates, did not mend his fortunes, and he
continued to importune his friends for loans. He sought access to the
King by petition; but it became more and more difficult to approach him.
On one occasion he tried to accomplish his purpose through the influence
of his Majesty’s mistress, Lady Castlemaine. Provided she could persuade
the king to grant his request, he offered to present to her “a thousand
pieces to buy her a little jewel, which she deserves to wear every day
of the week. And if it please God I live but two years,” he added, “I
will, out of the profits of my water-commanding engine, appropriate four
hundred pounds yearly, for ever, to her Grace’s disposal ... all which, as
I am a gentleman and a Christian, shall be faithfully and most thankfully
performed; though the benefit I pretend to by my petition will not amount
to what my gratitude obliges, yet the satisfaction which it will be to
my mind, and my credit therein at stake, I value at ten times as much.
And this will enable me to place my Water-commanding Engine, when I am
certained of an hundred pounds a day profit, without further troubling
the king or anybody.”[16]

All his piteous importunity proved of no avail. His friends turned
aside from his petitionings, and the king would give him no help. He
came to be regarded as a crack-brained enthusiast, and a wild projector
of impracticable things. He could not find any one to believe in his
water-commanding engine, though he himself regarded it as of greater worth
than either his titles or his estates. It had been his own creation--the
child of his brain--the product of studies and experiments extending over
nearly forty years. But what signified all this if no one would make use
of the invention?

His difficulties and embarrassments grew from day to day; and his projects
met with increased contumely and even contempt. None valued them, because
none understood them. It was even proposed to appropriate to other
purposes the premises at Vauxhall, on which he so much plumed himself, but
which he had been unable to purchase. To prevent this, he again petitioned
the king in 1666, representing that he had expended 9000_l._ in building
the house he occupied there as “an operatory for engineers and artists to
make public works in,” and “above 50,000_l._ trying conclusions of arts in
that operatory which may be useful to his Majesty and his kingdom;” and he
concluded by praying that Vauxhall might be granted to him at a fee-farm
rent. The Marchioness, his wife, at the same time petitioned the House of
Lords, representing the state of poverty to which her husband had been
reduced, and that, in consequence of an execution having been put in at
Worcester House, through a debt of 6000_l._ which the Marquis had incurred
in 1642 to pay the garrison of Monmouth, then in a state of mutiny, he
was actually threatened to be turned out of house and home. It is not
known what came of this petition; but shortly after its presentation the
poor Marquis was beyond all worldly help. Broken in health, harassed,
embarrassed, and disappointed, he died in April, 1667, in the sixty-sixth
year of his age, and his remains were conveyed to Raglan for interment in
the family vault.

    [16] Letter to some person unknown, quoted by Mr. Dircks from the
      Badminton MSS.--Dircks’s ‘Life, Times,’ &c., 276.

It will be remembered that the Marquis concluded the 98th article of his
‘Century’ with the words, “I call this a semi-omnipotent engine, and do
intend that a model thereof be buried with me.” A diligent search for the
model has recently been made in the vault under Raglan church, under the
direction of Mr. Bennet Woodcroft, whose enthusiasm as a collector of
primitive engines and machines is so well known; but the search proved
unsuccessful, and no traces of the Marquis’s model could be found.


[By Percival Skelton.]]



After the death of the Marquis of Worcester, the Marchioness, his
widow, made various efforts to turn his inventions to account. Sceptical
though the world was as to their utility, she fully believed in them;
and now that he was gone, it would have been dishonouring to his memory
to entertain a doubt as to his engine being able to do all that he had
promised. The Marchioness had not only to maintain the fame of her dear
husband, but to endeavour, if possible, to pay the debts he had contracted
in prosecuting his inventions. She accordingly sought to interest persons
of authority and influence in the water-commanding engine, and seized
every opportunity of bringing it into notice.

To such an extent did the Marchioness carry her zeal, that her
friends began to fear lest her mind was becoming disordered; and
her father-confessor was requested to expostulate with her as to the
impropriety of her conduct. He accordingly implored her to desist from
her vain endeavours to get “great sums of money from the King to pay her
deceased lord’s debts, enriching herself by the great machine, and the
like.” He added that he feared “the devil, to make his suggestions the
more prevalent, doth make use of some motives that seem plausible, as of
paying your lord’s debts, of founding monasteries, and the like;” pointing
out that the end did not justify the means, and that such undertakings
were improper for her ladyship, and by no means likely to be attended
with success. It is not improbable that these representations had their
effect; the more especially as the Marchioness was no more successful in
inducing the public to adopt the invention than the Marquis himself had
been. Accordingly, the water-commanding engine very shortly dropped out
of sight, and in the course of a few years was almost entirely forgotten.

The steam-engine project, however, did not die; it only slept. It had
been the fruit thus far of noble effort, of persevering self-denial, and
unquestionable skill. What was good in it would yet live, and reappear
perhaps in other forms, to vindicate the sagacity and foresight of its
inventor. Even during the Marquis’s lifetime other minds besides his were
diligently pursuing the same subject. Indeed, his enthusiasm was of a
kind especially calculated to inflame other minds; and the success he had
achieved with his engine, imperfect though it might be, was of so novel
and original a character that it could not fail to excite a warm interest
amongst men of like mechanical genius.

One of the most distinguished of these was Sir Samuel Morland, appointed
Master of Mechanics to Charles II. immediately after the Restoration. He
had been for some time previously in the employment of the Protectorate.
He formed one of the embassy to Sweden, with Whitlocke, in 1653. Some
years later he took an active part in the relief of the sufferings of
the persecuted Protestants of Piedmont--whose history he afterwards
wrote,--having been appointed Commissioner Extraordinary for the
distribution of the collected moneys. For some time he officiated as
assistant to Thurloe, Cromwell’s secretary; and it was while acting
in this capacity that he became cognisant of a plot against the life
of Charles II., then in exile. Morland divulged the plot to the king’s
friends, and thereby perhaps saved his life. For this service, Charles,
on his Restoration, presented him with a medal, as a badge of his signal
loyalty, and also appointed him Master of Mechanics.

From that time until the close of his life, Morland devoted himself
entirely to mechanical studies. Among his various inventions may be
mentioned the speaking-trumpet;[17] two arithmetical machines, of which
he published an illustrated description; the capstan to heave ships’
anchors; and various kinds of pumps and water engines. His pumps were of
a very powerful and effective kind. One of them, worked by eight men,
forced water from the Thames at Blackmoor Park, near Winkfield, to the
top of Windsor Castle. He also devoted himself to the improvement of
the fire-engine, in which he employed a cylinder and piston, as well as
a stuffing-box. Towards the later years of his life, he applied himself
more particularly to the study of the powers and uses of steam.[18] In
1677, we find him taking a lease of Vauxhall, most probably the identical
house occupied by the Marquis of Worcester, where he conducted a series
of experiments as to the power requisite to raise water by cylinders of
different dimensions.[19] It is not, however, known that he ever erected
a steam-engine. If he did, no account of its performances has been

    [17] We are informed that Morland’s _Tuba Stentorphornica_, or
      speaking-trumpet, is still to be seen at Trinity College,
      Cambridge. Butler, in his ‘Hudibras,’ alludes to the

        “I heard a formidable voice
        Loud as the stentorphornic noise.”

    [18] His first idea seems to have been to employ gunpowder for
      the production of motive power, for in the ‘Calendar of State
      Papers’ (Dom) we find the following entry:--“Decr. 11th,
      1691.--Warrant for a grant to Sir Samuel Morland of the sole use
      for 14 years of his invention for raising water out of pits,
      &c., to a reasonable height, by the force of powder and air
      conjointly.”--(‘Entry Book,’ V., p. 85.) In vol. XLVI., p. 49,
      we find this entry under the same date:--“Warrant for a grant
      to Sir S. Morland of the sole making of an engine invented by
      him for raising water in mines or pits, draining marshes, or
      supplying buildings with water.”

    [19] The ‘Harleian Miscellany’ (Brit. Mus.), No. 5771, contains
      the following brief tract in French, written by Morland in 1682.
      It is on vellum, and entitled ‘Les Principes de la Nouvelle
      Force de Feu:’--“L’eau estant evaporée par la force de feu, ces
      vapeurs demandent incontinant une plus grand’espace [environ
      deux mille fois] que l’eau n’occupoiet auparavant, et plus tost
      que d’etre toujours emprisonnés, feroient crever une piece
      de canon. Mais estant bien gouvernées selon les regles de la
      statique, et par science reduites a la mesure au poids, et à la
      balance, alors elles portent paisiblement leurs fardeaux [comme
      des bons chevaux] et ainsy seroient elles du grand usage au
      gendre humain, particulièrement pour l’elevation des eaux, selon
      la table suivante que marque les nombres des livres qui pourrant
      estre levés 1800 fois par heure, à 6 pouces de levée, par de
      cylindres à moitie remplies d’eau, ausi bien que les divers
      diametres et profondeurs des dit cylindres.” Tables are then
      given, showing the power requisite to raise given quantities of
      water to certain heights by cylinders of different dimensions.

Morland’s inventions proved of no greater advantage to him than those of
the Marquis of Worcester had done. His later years were spent in poverty
and blindness, and he must have perished but for the charitable kindness
of Archbishop Tenison and a few other friends. Evelyn gives the following
interesting account of a visit to him in October, 1695, two months before
his death:--“The Archbishop and myself went to Hammersmith to visit
Sir Samuel Morland, who was entirely blind; a very mortifying sight. He
showed me his invention of writing, which was very ingenious; also his
wooden calendar, which instructed him all by feeling, and other pretty
and useful inventions of mills, pumps, &c., and the pump he had erected
that serves water to his garden, and to passengers, with an inscription,
and brings from a filthy part of the Thames now near it, a most perfect
and pure water. He had newly buried 200_l._ worth of music books, being,
as he said, love songs and vanity. He plays himself psalms and religious
hymns on the theorbo.” The inscription to which Evelyn refers was on a
stone tablet fixed on the wall of his house, still preserved, which runs
thus:--“SIR SAMUEL MORLAND’S WELL, the use of which he freely gives to
all persons: hoping that none who shall come after him, will adventure
to incur God’s displeasure, by denying a cup of cold water (provided
at another’s cost and not their own) to either neighbour, stranger,
passenger, or poor thirsty beggar. July 8, 1695.”

[Illustration: DIONYSIUS PAPIN, M.D., F.R.S.]

The next prominent experimenter on the powers of steam was Dr. Dionysius
Papin. He was born at Blois about the middle of the seventeenth century,
and educated to the profession of medicine. After taking his degree
at Paris, he turned his attention more particularly to the study of
physics, which soon occupied his whole attention; and under the celebrated
Huyghens, then resident in that city, he made rapid progress. He would,
doubtless, have risen to great distinction in his own country, but for
the circumstance of his being a Protestant. To escape the persecutions
to which all members of that persuasion were then subject, Papin fled
from France in 1681, together with thousands of his countrymen, a few
years before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He took refuge in
London, where he was welcomed by men of science, and more especially by
the celebrated Boyle, under whose auspices he was introduced to the Royal
Society, of which he was appointed Curator at an annual salary.

It formed part of Papin’s duty, in connection with his new office,
to produce an experiment at each meeting of the Society. He was thus
induced to prosecute the study of physical science; and in order to
stimulate the interest of the members, he sought to introduce new subjects
from time to time to their notice. One of the greatest novelties of
his “entertainments” was the production of his well-known Digester,
which excited a considerable degree of interest; and on one occasion
a philosophical supper, cooked by the Digester, was served up to the
Fellows, of which Evelyn gives an amusing account in his Diary.

He was led to the invention of the Digester by certain experiments which
he made for Boyle. He discovered that if the vapour of boiling water could
be prevented escaping, the temperature of the water would be raised much
above the boiling point; and it occurred to him to employ this increased
heat in more effectually extracting nutritious matter from the bones of
animals, until then thrown away as useless. The great strength required
for his Digester, and the means he was obliged to adopt for the purpose
of securely confining the cover, must have early shown him what a powerful
agent he was experimenting on. To prevent the bursting of the vessel from
the internal pressure, he was led to the invention of the safety-valve,
which consisted of a small moveable plate, or cylinder, fitted into an
opening in the cover of the boiler, and kept shut by a lever loaded with
a weight, capable of sliding along it in the manner of a steel yard. The
pressure of the weight upon the valve could thus be regulated at pleasure.
When the pressure became so great as to endanger the safety of the boiler,
the valve was forced up, and so permitted the steam to escape. Although
Papin was thus the inventor of the safety-valve, it is a curious fact that
he did not apply it to the steam-machine which he subsequently invented,
but adopted another expedient.

The reputation of Papin having extended to Germany, he was, in 1687,
invited to fill the office of Professor of Mathematics in the University
of Marburg, and accepted the appointment. He continued, however, to
maintain a friendly correspondence with his scientific friends in England,
and communicated to the Royal Society the results of the experiments
in physics which he continued to pursue. In the same year in which he
settled at Marburg, he submitted to the Society an important paper, which
indicated the direction in which his thoughts were then running. It had
occurred to him, as it had before done to Hautefeuille, that the explosion
of gunpowder presented a ready means of producing a power to elevate a
piston in a tube or cylinder, and that, when so raised, a vacuum could
be formed under the piston by condensing the vapour, and so ensuring its
return by the pressure of the atmosphere. He thought that he might thus be
enabled to secure an efficient moving force. But it was found in practice,
that the proposed power was too violent as well as uncertain, and it was
shortly given up as impracticable.

Papin next inquired whether his proposed elastic force and subsequent
vacuum might not better be produced by means of steam. He accordingly
entered upon a series of experiments, which gradually led him to the
important conclusions published in his celebrated paper on “A New Method
of Obtaining very Great Moving Powers at Small Cost,” which appeared in
the ‘Acta Eruditorum’ of Leipsic, in 1690. “I felt confident,” he there
observes, “that machines might be constructed wherein water, by means of
no very intense heat, and at small cost, might produce that perfect vacuum
which had failed to be obtained by means of gunpowder.” He accordingly
contrived a machine to illustrate this idea, but it was very imperfect and
slow in its action, as may well be imagined from the circumstance that to
produce the condensation he did not apply cold, but merely took away the
fire! Still he was successfully working out, step by step, the important
problem of steam power. He clearly perceived that a piston might be raised
in a cylinder by the elastic force of steam, and that on the production
of a vacuum by its condensation, the piston might be driven home again by
the pressure of the atmosphere. The question was, how was this idea to be
realised in a practicable working machine? After many experiments, Papin
had the courage to make the attempt to pump water by atmospheric pressure
on a large scale. He was employed to erect machines after his principle,
for the purpose of draining mines in Auvergne and Westphalia; but from
the difficulty he experienced in procuring and preserving a vacuum, and
the tediousness of the process, his enterprise proved abortive.

The truth is, that fertile though Papin was in conception, he laboured
under the greatest possible disadvantage in not being a mechanic. The
eyes and hands of others are not to be relied on in the execution of new
and untried machines. Unless eyes and hands be disciplined by experience
in skilled work, and inspired by intelligence, they are comparatively
useless. The chances of success are vastly greater when mind, eyes, and
hands, are combined in one person. Hence the unquestionable fact that
though the motive power of steam had long been the subject of ingenious
speculation and elaborate experiment amongst scientific men, it failed
to be adopted as a practicable working power until it was taken in
hand by mechanics--by such men as Newcomen, the blacksmith; Potter, the
engine-driver; Brindley, the millwright; and, above all, by James Watt,
the mathematical instrument maker.

The sagacious foresight of Papin as to the extensive applicability of
steam-power as a motive agent, is strikingly shown by the following
passage in the paper above referred to:--“If any one,” says he, “will
consider the magnitude of the forces to be obtained in this way (_i. e._,
by the atmospheric high-pressure engine he was suggesting), and the
trifling expense at which a sufficient quantity of fuel can be procured,
he will certainly admit that this very method is far preferable to the use
of gunpowder above spoken of, especially as in this way a perfect vacuum
is obtained, and so the inconveniences above recounted are avoided. In
what manner that power can be applied to draw water or ore from mines,
to discharge iron bullets to a great distance, to propel ships against
the wind, and to a multitude of other similar purposes, it would be too
long here to detail; but each individual, according to the particular
occasion, must select the construction of machinery appropriate to his
purpose.” This last was, however, the real difficulty to be overcome.
Steam, doubtless, contained a power to do all these things; but as for
the machine that would work quietly, docilely, and effectively, in pumping
water, discharging bullets, or propelling ships, the mechanic had not yet
appeared that was able to make one.

Papin was, however, a man of great perseverance; and, strong in his faith
as to the power of steam to propel ships, he gradually worked his way
to the contrivance of a model steamboat. When in London, he had seen an
experiment tried by the Prince Palatine Rupert on the Thames, in which
a boat fitted with revolving paddles attached to the two ends of an
axle which received its motion from a trundle working on a wheel turned
round by horses, went with such rapidity as to leave the king’s barge,
manned by sixteen rowers, far behind in the race. The idea which occurred
to Papin was, to apply a steam machine to drive the paddles, and thus
ensure a ship’s motion independent of wind or tide. For this purpose, it
was necessary to convert the alternate motion of the piston-rod into a
continuous rotary one; and this he proposed to effect “by having the rods
of the pistons fitted with teeth, which would force round small wheels,
toothed in like manner, fastened to the axis of the paddles.”

[Illustration: ANCIENT PADDLE-BOAT.]

The use of paddle-wheels in propelling boats had long been known.
The Harleian MSS. contain an Italian book of sketches, attributed to
the fifteenth century, in which there appears the annexed sketch of a
paddle-boat. This boat was evidently intended to be worked by two men
turning the crank by which the paddles were made to revolve. There were
many other early schemes of paddle-boats, some of which were proposed
to be worked by horse-power. The name of Blasco Garay has often been
mentioned as the first who applied the power of steam to the driving
of paddle-boats; but for this there is not the slightest foundation. M.
Bergenroth informs us that he has carefully examined all the documents
relating to the trials of Blasco Garay in the archives at Simancas, but
has found no reference whatever to steam as the power employed in causing
the paddles to revolve.[20] The experiments were made at Malaga and
Barcelona respectively, in the years 1540 and 1543: in one the vessel was
propelled by a paddle-wheel on each side worked by twenty-five men, and
in the other by a paddle-wheel worked by forty men.

    [20] M. Bergenroth says the documents at Simancas consist of--1. A
      holograph letter of Blasco Garay to the Emperor, dated Malaga,
      10th Sept., 1540, containing his report on the trial trip of
      one of his paddle-wheel ships; 2. The report of the Captain
      Antonio Destigarura on the same trial trip; 3. The report of
      the Provcedores of Malaga concerning the same trip, dated 27th
      July, 1540; 4. The report of Blasco Garay to the Emperor, dated
      6th July, 1543, concerning the trial trip of another of his
      paddle-wheel ships made at Barcelona in June, 1543; 5. A letter
      of Blasco Garay to Carrs, dated 20th June, 1543. In none of
      these is there to be found any reference to steam-power; but
      only to the power of men employed in driving the paddle-wheels.
      This is confirmed by the independent examination of the same
      documents by J. Macgregor, Esq., of the Temple, who gives the
      result in a Letter to Bennet Woodcroft, Esq., inserted as a
      note to the ‘Abridgments of the Specifications relating to Steam
      Propulsion,’ pp. 105–7.

It appears probable that although others before Papin had speculated
as to the possibility of constructing a boat to be driven by the power
of steam, he was the first to test the theory by actual experiment; the
first to construct a model steamboat. His first experiments were doubtless
failures. The engine contrived by himself was found inapplicable to the
driving of ships, as it had been to the pumping of mines; and it was
not until he saw the model of Savery’s engine exhibited to the Royal
Society of London, in 1698, and witnessed the trial of the same inventor
s paddle-wheel boat on the Thames in the course of the same year that it
occurred to him to combine the two contrivances in one, and apply Savery’s
engine to drive Savery’s paddle-wheels. Returning to Marburg, he proceeded
with his experiments, and informed Liebnitz that he had employed both
suction and pressure by steam; that he had made a model of a carriage
propelled by this force, which succeeded; and he hoped that the same
power would answer for boats. Papin prosecuted his idea with great zeal,
trying many expedients, encountering many difficulties, and meeting with
many disappointments. At length, after about fifteen years’ labour, he
succeeded in constructing a model engine, fitted in a boat--“une petite
machine d’un vaisseau à roues”--which worked to his satisfaction. His next
object was to get his model transported to London, to exhibit it on the
Thames. “It is important,” he writes to Liebnitz (7th July, 1707), “that
my new construction of vessel should be put to the proof in a seaport like
London, where there is depth enough to apply the new invention, which,
by means of fire, will render one or two men capable of producing more
effect than some hundreds of rowers.” Papin had considerable difficulty
in obtaining the requisite permission from the authorities to enable his
model to pass from the Fulda to the Weser; but at length he succeeded,
and the little vessel reached Münden, when, to Papin’s great grief, it
was seized by the boatmen of the river, and barbarously destroyed.

The year after this calamity befell Papin’s machine he wrote an urgent
letter to his old friends of the Royal Society at London, asking them to
advance him sufficient money to construct another engine “and to fit it so
that it might be applied for the rowing of ships.” The Society, however,
did not see their way to assisting Papin in the manner proposed, most
likely because of the expense as well as uncertainty of the experiment.
Two years later, worn out by work and anxiety, the illustrious exile died;
and it was left for other labourers to realise the great ideas he had
formed as to locomotion by steam-power.

The apparently resultless labours of these men will serve to show what a
long, anxious, and toilsome process the invention of the steam-engine has
been. The early inventors had not the gratification of seeing their toils
rewarded by even the faintest glimmering of practical success. One after
another, they took up the subject, spent days and nights of study over
it, and, laying down their lives, there left it. To many the study brought
nothing but anxiety, toil, distress, and sometimes ruin; while some fairly
broke their hearts over it. But it was never abandoned. Disregarding
the fate of their predecessors, one labourer after another resumed
the investigation, advancing it by further stages, until at length the
practicable working steam-engine was invented, presenting, perhaps, the
most remarkable illustration of the power of human skill and perseverance
to be found in the whole history of civilisation.



The attempts hitherto made to invent a working steam-engine, it will
be observed, had not been attended with much success. The most that
could be said of them was, that, by demonstrating the impracticable,
they were gradually leading other experimenters in the direction of
the practicable. Although the progress made seemed but slow, the amount
of net result was by no means inconsiderable. Men were becoming better
acquainted with the elastic force of steam. The vacuum produced by its
condensation in a closed vessel, and the consequent atmospheric pressure,
had been illustrated by repeated experiments; and many separate and minor
inventions, which afterwards proved of great value, had been made, such as
the four-way cock, the safety-valve, and the piston moving in a cylinder.
The principle of a true steam-engine had not only been demonstrated, but
most of the separate parts of such an engine had been contrived by various
inventors. It seemed as if all that was now wanting was a genius of more
than ordinary power to combine them in a complete and effective whole.

To Thomas Savery is usually accorded the merit of having constructed the
first actual working steam-engine. Little is known of his early history;
and various surmises have been formed as to his origin and calling.
Some writers have described him as the captain of a tin-mine; others as
a naval captain; while a third says he was an immigrant Frenchman.[21]
We are, however, enabled to state, from information communicated by his
descendants, that he was the scion of a well-known Devonshire family.
John Savery, of Halberton, or Harberton, afterwards of Great Totness,
was a gentleman of considerable property in the reign of Henry VIII. In
the sixteenth century the Saverys became connected by marriage with the
Servingtons of Tavistock, another old county family, one of whom served as
sheriff in the reign of Edward III. In 1588, Christopher Savery, the head
of the family, resided in Totness Castle, of which he was the owner; and
for a period of nearly forty years the town was represented in Parliament
by members of the Savery family. Sir Charles served as Sheriff of Devon in
1619. Though the Saverys took the side of the Parliament, in resisting the
despotic power assumed by Charles I., they nevertheless held a moderate
course; for we find Colonel Savery, in 1643, attaching his name to the
famous “round robin” presented to Parliament. Richard Savery, the youngest
son of the Colonel, was father of Thomas Savery, the inventor of the
“fire-engine.” Other members of the Savery family, besides Thomas, were
distinguished for their prosecution of physical science. Thus we find from
the family MSS., Servington Savery corresponding with Dr. Jurin, Secretary
to the Royal Society, respecting an improvement which he had made in the
barometer, and communicating the results of some magnetic experiments of
a novel kind, which he had recently performed.[22]

    [21] Burn, ‘History of Foreign Protestant Refugees,’ 261.

    [22] In a letter, dated Shilston, August 9th, 1727, he
      writes:--“The late Mr. Thomas Savery, inventor of the engines
      for rowing, and raising water by fire, was, I believe, well
      known to several of the Royal Society, perhaps to the President;
      but as I am a perfect stranger, do acquaint you that his father
      was youngest brother to my grandfather. The late Servington
      Savery, M.D., of Marlborough, was one of my family, viz., a
      brother to my deceased father.”

[Illustration: THOMAS SAVERY, F.R.S.]

Thomas Savery was born at Shilston, near Modbury, in Devon, about
the year 1650. Nothing is known of his early life, beyond that he was
educated to the profession of a military engineer, and in course of time
duly reached the rank of Trench-master. The corps of engineers was not,
however, regarded as an essential part of the military force until the
year 1787, when the officers ranked with those of the Royal Artillery.
The pursuit of his profession, as well as his natural disposition, led
Savery to the study of mechanics, and he became well accomplished in the
physical knowledge of his time. He occupied much of his spare time in
mechanical experiments, and in projecting and executing contrivances of
various sorts. One of his early works was a clock, still preserved in the
family,[23] which until lately kept very good time; and when last repaired
by a watchmaker of Modbury was pronounced to be a piece of very good work,
of a peculiar construction, displaying much ingenuity.

Another of Savery’s early contrivances was a machine for polishing
plate-glass, for which he obtained a patent. He was occupied about the
same time with an invention for rowing ships in calms by the mechanical
apparatus subsequently described in his treatise, entitled ‘Navigation
Improved.’ He there relates how it troubled his thoughts and racked
his brains to find out this invention, which he accomplished after many
experiments, conducted “with great charge.” He naturally set much value
on the product of so much study and labour; and he was proportionately
vexed on finding that others regarded it with indifference. He professed
to have had “promises of a great reward from the Court, if the thing would
answer the end for which he proposed it;” but instead of a reward, Savery
received only contumely and scorn. He attributed his want of success to
the ill-humour of the then Surveyor of the Navy, who reported against
his engine, because, said he, “it’s the nature of some men to decry all
inventions that are not the product of their own brains.” He only asked
for a fair trial of his paddle-boat, believing in its efficiency and
utility; declaring, that it was not his “fondness for his own bratt that
made him think so,” but the favourable opinions of several very judicious
persons in town, that encouraged him to urge his invention for public

    [23] It is now in the possession of Capt. Lowe, of the 26th
      Regiment, whose grand-aunt was a Miss Savery of Shilston.

The invention in question consisted of a boat mounted with two
paddle-wheels, one on each side, worked by a capstan placed in the centre
of the vessel. The annexed cut will show the nature of the arrangement,
which probably did not differ much from the scheme of Blasco Garay, above
referred to.


Savery says he was led to make the invention through the difficulty
which had been experienced in getting ships in motion so as to place them
alongside of the enemy in sea-fights, especially during calm weather. He
thought that if our fighting-ships could be made to move independent of
the winds, we should thereby possess an advantage of essential consequence
to the public service. “The gentlemen,” said he, “that were on the Brest
expedition with my Lord Caermarthen must know how useful this engine would
have been; for had they had them there on board each ship, they might have
moved themselves where they had pleased.” He also urged the usefulness of
the engine for packet-boats, bomb-vessels, and sloops, and especially for
use in sea-fights, in bringing off disabled ships. When he had completed
his invention, he took steps to bring it under the notice of Mr. Secretary
Trenchard. The plan was shown to the King, who thought highly of it, and
referred Savery to the Admiralty. When he went there he was told that he
should have gone to the Navy Board. At the Navy Board he was told that
certain objections to the adoption of his scheme had already been sent to
the Admiralty.

Savery having ascertained that the Surveyor was himself the author of the
objections, proceeded to discuss the matter with him. But the Surveyor
was not a man to be argued out of his views by an inventor; and he shut
up Savery with the remark: “What have interloping people, that have no
concern with us, to do to pretend to contrive or invent things for us?”
Savery was highly indignant at the official snub, and published the
conversation in his Treatise. “Though one has found out,” said he, “an
improvement as great to shipping as turning to windward or the Compass,
unless you can sit round the Green Table in Crutched Friars, your
invention is damned, of course;” and the testy inventor concluded: “All I
have now to add is, that whoever is angry with the Truth for appearing in
mean language may as well be angry with an honest man for his plain habit;
for, indeed, it is as common for Lyes and Nonsense to be disguised by a
jingle of words as for a Blockhead to be hid by abundance of Peruke.”[24]

    [24] ‘Navigation Improved; or the Art of Rowing Ships of all rates
      in calms, with a more easy, swift and steady motion than oars
      can. Also, a description of the engine that performs it; and the
      Author’s answer to all Mr. Drummer’s objections that have been
      made against it. By Tho. Savery, Gent. London, 1698.’

Notwithstanding his rebuff by the Navy Surveyor, Savery proceeded to
fit up a small yacht with his engine, and tried an experiment with it
on the Thames, in sight of many thousands of spectators. The experiment
was, in his opinion, entirely successful. The yacht, manned by eight
sailors working the capstan, passed a ketch with all its sails spread,
as well as other vessels. “All people,” said Savery, “seemed to like the
demonstration of the use of my engine, the public newspapers speaking
very largely of it, yet all to no purpose.” Savery had already expended
200_l._ in his experiments on the paddle-wheel boat, and was not disposed
to go any further, now that Government had decided not to take up the
invention. Indeed, its practical utility was doubtful. The power of the
wind was, after all, better than hand-labour for working large ships;
and it continued to maintain its superiority until the steam-engine was
brought to perfection.

It is curious that it should not have occurred to Savery, who invented
both a paddle-wheel boat and a steam-engine, to combine the two in one
machine; but he was probably sick of the former invention, which had given
him so much vexation and annoyance, and gave it up in disgust, leaving
it to Papin, who saw both his inventions at work, to hit upon the grand
idea of combining the two in a steam-vessel,--the only machine capable
of effectually and satisfactorily rowing ships in a calm, or against wind
and tide.

It is probable that Savery was led to enter upon his next and most
important invention by the circumstance of his having been brought up
in the neighbourhood of the mining districts, and being well aware
of the great difficulty experienced by the miners in keeping their
pits clear of water, to enable them to proceed with their underground
operations. The early tin-mining of Cornwall was for the most part
what was called “stream-work,” being confined mainly to washing and
collecting the diluvial deposits of the ore. Mines usually grew out of
these stream-works; the ground was laid open at the back of the lodes,
and the ore was dug out as from a quarry. Some of these old openings,
called “coffins,” are still to be met with in different parts of Cornwall.
The miners did not venture much below the surface, for fear of the
water, by which they were constantly liable to be drowned out. But as
the upper strata became exhausted, they were tempted to go deeper in
search of the richer ores. Shafts were sunk to the lodes, and they were
followed underground. Then it was that the difficulty of water had to be
encountered and overcome; for unless it could be got rid of, the deeper
ores of Cornwall were as so much buried treasure. When the mines were of
no great depth, it was possible to bale out the water by hand-buckets.
But this expedient was soon exhausted; and the power of horses was then
employed to draw the buckets. Where the lodes ran along a hill-side, it
was possible, by driving an adit from a lower point, to let off the water
by natural drainage. But this was not often found practicable, and in most
cases it had to be raised directly from the shafts by artificial methods.
As the quantity increased, a whim or gin moving on a perpendicular axis
was employed to draw the water.[25] An improvement on this was the rack
and chain pump, consisting of an endless iron chain mounted with knobs
of cloth stiffened with leather, inclosed in a wooden pump of from six
to eight inches bore, the lower part of which rested in the well of the
mine. The chain was turned round by a wheel two or three feet in diameter,
usually worked by men, and the knobs with which it was mounted brought up
a stream of water according to the dimensions of the pump. Another method,
considered the most effectual of all, was known as “the water-wheel and
bobs,” consisting of a powerful pump, or series of pumps, worked by
a water-wheel. But although there is no want of water underground in
Cornwall, and no want of rain above ground, there are few or no great
water-courses capable of driving machinery; besides, as the mines are for
the most part situated on high ground, it will be obvious that water-power
was available to only a very limited extent for this purpose.

    [25] Mr. Davies Gilbert says even this method was comparatively
      modern, as he remembered a carpenter who used to boast that
      he had assisted in making the first whim ever seen westward of
      Hayle.--Davies, ‘Parochial History of Cornwall,’ London, 1838,
      ii. 83.

It is also worthy of notice that the early mining of Cornwall was carried
on by men of small capital, principally by working men, who were unable
to expend any large amount of money in forming artificial reservoirs,
or in erecting the powerful pumping machinery necessary for keeping the
deeper mines clear of water. The Cornish miners, like the Whitstable
oyster-dredgers, worked upon the principle of co-operation. This doctrine,
now taught as a modern one, was practised by them almost time out of mind.
The owner of the land gave the use of his land, the adventurers gave their
money, and the miners their labour; all sharing in the proceeds according
to ancient custom. For the use of his land, and for the ore taken from
the mine, the lord usually took a sixth part; but in consideration of
draining the mine, and in order to encourage the adventure, he was often
content with an eighth, or it might be only a tenth part of the produce.
The miners, on their part, agreed to divide in the proportions in which
they took part in the work. Their shares of the ore raised were measured
by barrows, and parcelled into heaps; “and it is surprising,” says
Borlase, “to see how ready and exact the reckoners are in dividing, though
oftentimes they can neither write nor read. The parcels being laid forth,
lots are cast, and then every parcel has a distinct mark laid on it with
one, two, or three stones, and sometimes a bit of stick or turf stuck up
in the middle or side of the pile; and when these marks are laid on, the
parcels may continue there half a year or more unmolested.”[26]

    [26] Borlase, ‘Natural History of Cornwall,’ 175–6.

These were, however, the early and primitive days of mining, when the
operations were carried on comparatively near the surface, and the capital
invested in pumping-machinery was comparatively small in amount. As the
miners went deeper and deeper into the ground, and the richer lodes were
struck and followed, the character of mining became considerably changed.
Larger capitals were required to sink the shafts and keep them clear
of water until the ore was reached; and a new class of men, outside the
mining districts, was induced to venture their money in the mines as a
speculation. Yet the system above described, though greatly modified by
altered circumstances, continues to this day; and the mining of Cornwall
continues to be carried on mainly upon the co-operative or joint-stock

When the surface lodes became exhausted, the necessity of employing some
more efficient method of pumping the water became more and more urgent.
In one pit after another the miners were being drowned out, and the
operations of an important branch of national industry were in danger of
being brought to a complete standstill. It was under these circumstances
that Captain Savery turned his attention to the contrivance of a more
powerful engine for the raising of water; and after various experiments,
he became persuaded that the most effective agency for the purpose was
the power of steam. It is very probable that he was aware of the attempts
that had been previously made in the same direction, and he may have
gathered many useful and suggestive hints from the Marquis of Worcester’s
‘Century;’ but as that book contained no plans nor precise definitions
of the methods by which the Marquis had accomplished his objects, it
could have helped him but little towards the contrivance of a practicable
working engine.[27]

    [27] The absurd story is told by Dr. Desaguliers (‘Experimental
      Philosophy,’ ii. 465) that Savery, having read the Marquis’s
      book, “was the first to put in practice the raising of water by
      fire, which he proposed for the draining of mines;” and having
      copied the Marquis’s engine, “the better to conceal the matter,
      bought up all the Marquis of Worcester’s books that he could
      purchase in Paternoster-row and elsewhere, and burned ’em in
      the presence of the gentleman, his friend, who told me this!”
      It need scarcely be said that it was very unlikely that Savery
      should have attempted thus to conceal an invention recorded in
      a printed book which had been in circulation for more than forty

How Savery was led to the study of the power of steam has been differently
stated. Desaguliers says his own account was this,--that having drunk a
flask of Florence at a tavern, and thrown the empty flask on the fire, he
called for a basin of water to wash his hands, and perceiving that the
little wine left in the flask had changed to steam, he took the vessel
by the neck and plunged its mouth into the water in the basin, when, the
steam being condensed, the water was immediately driven up into the flask
by the pressure of the atmosphere. Desaguliers disbelieved this account,
but admits that Savery made many experiments upon the powers of steam,
and eventually succeeded in making several engines “which raised water
very well.” Switzer, who was on intimate terms with Savery, gives another
account. He says the first hint from which he took the engine was from
a tobacco-pipe, which he immersed in water to wash or cool it; when he
discovered by the rarefaction of the air in the tube by the heat or steam,
and the gravitation or pressure of the exterior air on the condensation
of the latter, that the water was made to spring through the tube of the
pipe in a most surprising manner;[28] and that this phenomenon induced
him to search for the rationale, and to prosecute a series of experiments
which issued in the invention of his fire-engine.

However Savery may have obtained his first idea of the expansion and
condensation of steam, and of atmospheric pressure, it is certain that
the subject occupied his attention for many years. He had the usual
difficulties to encounter in dealing with a wholly new and untried power,
in contriving the novel mechanism through which it was to work, and of
getting his contrivances executed by the hands of mechanics necessarily
unaccustomed to such kind of work. “Though I was obliged,” he says, “to
encounter the oddest and almost insuperable difficulties, I spared neither
time, pains, nor money, till I had absolutely conquered them.”

    [28] Switzer, ‘System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulicks,’ London,

Having sufficiently matured his design, he had a model of his new “Fire
Engine,” as he termed it, made for exhibition before the King at Hampton
Court in 1698. William III., who was himself of a mechanical turn, was
highly pleased with the ingenuity displayed in Savery’s engine, as well as
with its efficient action, and he permitted the inventor to dedicate to
him ‘The Miner’s Friend,’ containing the first published description of
his invention. The King also promoted Savery’s application for a Patent,
which was secured in July, 1698,[29] and an Act confirming it was passed
in the following year.

Savery’s next step was to bring his invention under the notice of the
Royal Society, whose opinion on all matters of science was listened to
with profound respect. He accordingly exhibited his model at a meeting
held on the 14th of June, 1699, and it is recorded in the minutes of that
date, that “Mr. Savery entertained the Society with showing his engine
to raise water by the force of fire. He was thanked for showing the
experiment, which succeeded according to expectation, and was approved
of.” The inventor presented the Society with a drawing of his engine,
accompanied by a description, which was printed in the ‘Transactions.’[30]

    [29] The patent is dated the 25th July, 1698, and is entitled,
      “A grant to Thomas Savery, Gentl., of the sole exercise of
      a new invenc̃on, by him invented, for raiseing of water, and
      occasioning moc̃on to all sort of mill works, by the impellant
      force of fire, which will be of great use for draining mines,
      serving towns with water, and for the working of all sorts
      of mills when they have not the benefit of water nor constant
      winds; to hold for 14 years; with usual clauses.”

    [30] ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ No. 252. Weld’s ‘Royal
      Society,’ i. 357.

Savery next endeavoured to bring his invention into practical use, but
this was a matter of much greater difficulty. So many schemes with a like
object had been brought out and failed, that the mining interest came to
regard new projects with increasing suspicion. To persuade them that he
was no mere projector, but the inventor of a practicable working engine,
Savery wrote and published his ‘Miner’s Friend.’ “I am not very fond,” he
there said, “of lying under the scandal of a bare projector, and therefore
present you here with a draught of my machine, and lay before you the uses
of it, and leave it to your consideration whether it be worth your while
to make use of it or no.”

Inventors before Savery’s time were wont to make a great mystery of their
inventions; but he proclaimed that there was no mystery whatever about
his machine, and he believed that the more clearly it was understood,
the better it would be appreciated. He acknowledged that there had been
many pretenders to new inventions of the same sort, who had excited hopes
which had never been fulfilled; but this invention which he had made was
a thing the uses of which were capable of actual demonstration. He urged
that the old methods of raising water could not be carried further; and
that an entirely new power was needed to enable the miner to prosecute
his underground labours. “I fear,” said he, “that whoever by the old
causes of motion pretends to improvements within the last century does
betray his knowledge and judgment. For more than a hundred years since,
men and horses would raise by engines then made as much water as they
have ever done since, or I believe ever will, or, according to the law of
nature, ever can do. And, though my thoughts have been long employed about
water-works, I should never have pretended to any invention of that kind,
had I not happily found out this new, but yet a much stronger and cheaper
force or cause of motion than any before made use of.” He proceeded to
show how easy it was to work his engine,--boys of thirteen or fourteen
years being able to attend and work it to perfection after a few days’
teaching,--and how he had at length, after great difficulty, instructed
handicraft artificers to construct the engine according to his design, so
that, after much experience, said he, “they are become such masters of
the thing that they oblige themselves to deliver what engines they make
exactly tight and fit for service, and as such I dare warrant them to
anybody that has occasion for them.”[31]

Savery’s engine, as described by himself, consisted of a series of
boilers, condensing vessels, and tubes, the action of which will be
readily understood with the help of the annexed drawing.[32]

[Illustration: SAVERY’S ENGINE.]

    [31] ‘The Miner’s Friend, or an Engine to Raise Water by Fire,
      described, and of the manner of fixing it in Mines, with an
      account of the several uses it is applicable unto; and an
      answer to the objections made against it. By Tho. Savery, Gent.’
      London, 1702.

    [32] Two boilers, a large, A, and a smaller, B, were fixed in
      a furnace, and connected together at the top by a pipe, C.
      The larger boiler was filled two-thirds full, and the smaller
      quite full of water. When that in the larger one was raised to
      the boiling-point, the handle of the regulator, D, was thrust
      back as far as it would go, by which the steam forced itself
      through the pipe connected with the vessel E, expelling the
      air it contained through the clack at F. The handle of the
      regulator being then drawn towards you, the communication
      between the boiler and the vessel, E, was closed, and that
      between the boiler and the second vessel, G, was opened, which
      latter was also filled with steam, the air being in like manner
      discharged through the clack, H. Cold water was then poured
      from the water-cock, I, on to the vessel E, by which the steam
      was suddenly condensed, and a vacuum being thereby caused, the
      water to be raised was drawn up through the sucking-pipe, J,
      its return being prevented by a clack or valve at K. The handle
      of the regulator D being again thrust back, the steam was again
      admitted, and pressing upon the surface of the water in E,
      forced it out at the bottom of the vessel and up through the
      pipe L, from which it was driven into the open air. The handle
      of the regulator was then reversed, on which the steam was again
      admitted to G, and the water in like manner expelled from it,
      while E, being again dashed with cold water, was refilling from
      below. Then the cold water was turned upon G, and thus alternate
      filling and forcing went on, and a continuous stream of cold
      water kept flowing from the upper opening. The large boiler was
      replenished with water by shutting off the connection of the
      small boiler with the cold water pipe, M, which supplied it from
      above, on which the steam contained in the latter forced the
      water through the connecting pipe, C, into the large boiler,
      and kept it running in a continuous stream until the surface of
      the water in the smaller boiler was depressed below the opening
      of the connecting pipe, which was indicated by the noise of
      the clack, when it was refilled from the cold water pipe, M, as

Its principal features were two large cylindrical vessels, which were
alternately filled with steam from an adjoining boiler and with cold water
from the well or mine out of which the water had to be raised. When either
of the hollow vessels was filled with steam, and then suddenly cooled by
a dash of cold water, a vacuum was thereby created, and, the vessel being
closed at the top and open at the bottom, the water was at once forced
up into it from the well by the pressure of the atmosphere. The steam,
being then let into the vessel from the top, pressed upon the surface of
the water, and forced it out at the bottom by another pipe (its return
into the well being prevented by a clack), and so up the perpendicular
pipe which opened into the outer air. The second vessel being treated in
the same manner, the same result followed; and thus, by alternate filling
and forcing, a continuous stream of water was poured out from the upper
opening. The whole of the labour required to work the engine was capable
of being performed by a single man, or even by a boy, after very little

Although Savery’s plans and descriptions of the arrangement and working
of his engines are clear and explicit, he does not give any information as
to their proportions, beyond stating that an engine employed in raising a
column of water 3½ inches in diameter 60 feet high, requires a fireplace
20 inches deep. Speaking of their performances, he says, “I have known,
in Cornwall, a work with three lifts of about 18 feet each, lift and
carry a 3½-inch bore, that cost 42_s._ a day (reckoning 24 a day) for
labour, besides the wear and tear of engines, each pump having four men
working eight hours, at 14_d._ a man, and the men obliged to rest at
least a third part of that time.” He pointed out that at least one-third
part of the then cost of raising water might be saved by the adoption
of his invention, which on many mines would amount to “a brave estate”
in the course of a year. In estimating the power of his engine, Savery
was accustomed to compare it with the quantity of work that horses could
perform, and hence he introduced the term “horse power,” which is still
in use.

Although, in the treatise referred to, Savery describes an engine with
two furnaces, the drawing which he presented to the Royal Society showed
only one; and it appears that in another of his designs he showed only
one cylindrical vessel instead of two. In order to exhibit the working
of his engine on a larger scale than in the model, he proceeded to erect
one in a potter’s house at Lambeth, where, Switzer says, though it was a
small engine, the water struck up the tiles and forced its way through the
roof in a manner that surprised all the spectators. Switzer mentions other
engines erected after Savery’s designs for the raising of water at Camden
House and Sion House, which proved quite successful. The former, he says,
was the plainest and best proportioned engine he had seen: it had only a
single condensing vessel; and “though but a small one in comparison with
many others of the kind that are made for coal-works, it is sufficient for
any reasonable family, and other uses required for it in watering middling
gardens.”[33] Four receivers full of water, or equal to 52 gallons, were
raised every minute, or 3110 gallons in the hour; whilst, in the case
of the larger engines with double receivers, 6240 gallons an hour might
easily be raised. The cost of the smaller engine was about fifty pounds,
and the consumption of coal about a bushel in the twenty-four hours,
supposing it was kept constantly at work during that time.

    [33] Switzer, ‘Introduction to a General System of Hydrostaticks
      and Hydraulicks,’ 237.


[By R. P. Leitch.]]

The uses to which Savery proposed to apply his engine were various.
One was to pump water into a reservoir, from which, by falling on a
water-wheel, it might produce a continuous rotary motion. Another was to
raise water into cisterns for the supply of gentlemen’s houses, and for
use in fountains and as an extinguisher in case of fire. A third was to
raise water for the supply of towns, and a fourth to drain fens and marsh
lands. But the most important, in the inventor’s estimation, was its
employment in clearing drowned mines and coal-pits of water. He showed
how water might be raised from deep mines by using several engines, placed
at different depths, one over the other. Thus by three lifts, each of 80
feet, water might be raised from a mine about 240 feet--then considered a
very great depth. From Savery’s own account, it is evident that several
of his engines were erected in Cornwall; and it is said that the first
was tried at Huel Vor, or “The Great Work in Breage,” a few miles from
Helstone, then considered the richest tin mine in the county. The engine
was found to be an improvement on the methods formerly employed for
draining the mine, and sent the miners to considerably greater depths. But
the great pressure of steam required to force up a high column of water
was such as to strain to the utmost the imperfect boilers and receivers
of those early days; and the frequent explosions which attended its use
eventually led to its discontinuance in favour of the superior engine of
Newcomen, which was shortly after invented.

Savery also endeavoured to introduce his engine in the coal-mining
districts, but without success, and for the same reason. The demand for
coal in connection with the iron manufacture having greatly increased
in the county of Stafford, and the coal which lay nearest the surface
having been for the most part “won,” the mining interest became very
desirous of obtaining some more efficient means of clearing the pits of
water, in order to send the miners deeper into the ground. Windlass and
buckets, wind-mills, horse-gins, rack-and-chain pumps, adits, and all
sorts of contrivances had been tried, and the limit of their powers had
been reached. The pits were fast becoming drowned out, and the ironmasters
began to fear lest their manufacture should become lost through want of
fuel. Under these circumstances they were ready to hail the invention of
Captain Savery, which promised to relieve them of their difficulty. He
was accordingly invited to erect one of his engines over a coal-mine at
the Broadwaters, near Wednesbury. The influx of water, however, proved
too much for the engine; the springs were so many and so strong, that all
the means which Savery could employ failed to clear the mine of water. To
increase the forcing power he increased the pressure of steam; but neither
boiler nor receiver could endure it, and the steam “tore the engine to
pieces; so that, after much time, labour, and expense, Mr. Savery gave up
the undertaking, and the engine was laid aside as useless.”[34]

    [34] Dr. Wilkes in ‘Shaw’s History of Staffordshire,’ i. 85, 119.

He was no more successful with the engine which he erected at
York-buildings to pump water from the Thames for the supply of the western
parts of London. Bradley says that to increase its power he doubled
every part, but “it was liable to so many disorders, if a single mistake
happened in the working of it, that at length it was looked upon as a
useless piece of work, and rejected.”[35] Savery’s later engines thus
lost him much of the credit which he had gained by those of an earlier
and simpler construction. It became clear that their application was
very limited. They involved much waste of fuel through the condensation
of the hot steam pressing upon the surface of the cold water, previous
to the expulsion of the latter from the vessel; and eventually their
use was confined to the pumping of water for fountains and the supply
of gentlemen’s houses, and in some cases to the raising of water for the
purpose of working an overshot water-wheel. Various attempts were made to
improve the engine by Bradley, by Papin, by Desaguliers, and others; but
no great advance was made in its construction and method of working until
it was taken in hand by Newcomen and Calley, whose conjoint invention
marks an important epoch in the history of the steam-engine.

    [35] Bradley, ‘Discourses on Earth and Water, &c.’ Westminster,

Not much is known of the later years of Savery’s life. We find him a
Captain of Military Engineers in 1702;[36] and in 1705, with the view
of advancing knowledge in his special branch of military science, he
gave to the world a translation, in folio, of Cohorn’s celebrated work
on fortification. The book was dedicated to Prince George of Denmark,
to whom he was indebted, in the same year, for his appointment to the
office of Treasurer of the Hospital for Sick and Wounded Seamen. Various
letters and documents are still to be found in the Transport Office,
Somerset House, addressed to him in that capacity.[37] In 1714 he was
further indebted to Prince George for the appointment of Surveyor to
the Waterworks at Hampton Court; but he did not live to enjoy it, as he
died in the course of the following year. He is said to have accumulated
considerable property, which he bequeathed to his wife, together with all
interest in his inventions. His will was executed on the day of his death,
the 15th of May, 1715, and was proved four days after in the Prerogative
Court of Canterbury. He there described himself as “of the parish of Saint
Margaret, at Westminster, Esquire.” His widow herself died before all his
effects were administered. There was a considerable amount of unclaimed
stock, which the Savery family were prevented from claiming, as it had
passed to the widow; and it has since been transferred to the credit of
the National Debt.

    [36] We are informed by Quartermaster Conolly, R.E., who has given
      much attention to the early history of the Royal Engineers,
      that the book of Warrants and Appointments, anno 1712, No. 172½,
      in the Tower Record-room, contains the following memorandum in
      pencil on the inside cover:--[Thomas] “Savery, Engineer officer,

    [37] A pamphlet published in 1712, entitled ‘An Impartial Inquiry
      into the Management of the War in Spain,’ contains the following
      reference to Savery:--“Sums allowed by Parliament for carrying
      on the war in Spain ... for the year 1710. To Thomas Savery,
      Esq., for Thomas Cale, surgeon, for care of disabled soldiers,
      306_l._ 6_s._ 4_d._”



The invention of the steam-engine had advanced thus far with halting
steps. A new power had been discovered, but it was so dangerous and
unmanageable that it was still doubtful whether it could be applied to
any useful purpose. What was still wanting was an engine strong enough to
resist the internal pressure of highly-heated steam, and so constructed
as to work safely, continuously, and economically. Many attempts had been
made to contrive such a machine; but, as we have shown, the results were
comparatively barren. Savery’s small engine could raise water in moderate
quantities to limited heights; but the pumping of deep mines was beyond
its power. It could force water to a height of about sixteen fathoms; but
as the depth of mines at that time was from fifty to a hundred yards,
it was obviously incompetent for their drainage. It is true, Savery
proposed to overcome the difficulty by erecting a series of engines,
placed one over another in the shaft of the mine; but the expense of their
attendants, the great consumption of fuel, the cost of wear and tear, the
constant danger of explosion, and the risk of the works being stopped by
any one of the engines becoming temporarily deranged, rendered it clear
that the use of his engine for ordinary mining purposes was altogether

Such was the state of affairs when Thomas Newcomen of Dartmouth took up
the subject. Comparatively little is known of the personal history of
this ingenious man. Mechanical inventors excited little notice in those
days; they were looked upon as schemers, and oftener regarded as objects
of suspicion than of respect. Thomas Newcomen was by trade an ironmonger
and a blacksmith. The house in which he lived and worked stood, until
quite recently, in Lower Street, Dartmouth. Like many of the ancient
timber houses of that quaint old town, it was a building of singularly
picturesque appearance. Lower Street is very narrow; the houses in it are
tall and irregular, with overhanging peaked gable-ends. A few years since,
Newcomen’s house began to show indications of decay; the timber supports
were fast failing; and for safety’s sake it was determined to pull it to
the ground.


[By R. P. Leitch.][38]]

    [38] Newcomen’s house occupies the centre of the above
      engraving--the house with the peaked gable-end supported by

The Newcomen family have long since become extinct in Dartmouth. They are
said to have left the place long ago, and gone northward; but we have been
unable to trace them. The Newcomens appear to have occupied a respectable
position in Dartmouth down to about the middle of the last century. Their
burying-place was in the north-side chapel of the fine old parish church
of the town, where several tablets are erected to their memory. Amongst
others, there is one to William Newcomin, Attorney-at-Law, who died
the 24th of August, 1745, aged 57, supposed to have been a brother, and
another of the same name, who died in 1787, aged 65, supposed to have been
a son of the ironmonger.

Thomas Newcomen was a man of strong religious feelings, and from an early
period of his life occupied his leisure in voluntary religious teaching.
He belonged to the sect of Baptists; and the place was standing until
recently in which he regularly preached. When he afterwards went into
distant parts of the country on engine business, he continued to devote
his Sundays to the same work. How he first came to study the subject of
steam is not known. Mr. Holdsworth says a story was current in Dartmouth
in his younger days, and generally believed, that Newcomen conceived
the idea of the motive power to be obtained from steam by watching the
tea-kettle, the lid of which would frequently rise and fall when boiling;
and, reasoning upon this fact, he contrived, by filling a cylinder with
steam, to raise the piston, and by immediately injecting some cold water,
to create a vacuum, which allowed the weight of the atmosphere to press
the piston down, and so give motion to a pump by means of a beam and

    [39] Pamphlet on ‘Dartmouth: the advantages of its Harbour as
      a Station for Foreign Mail Packets, and a Short Notice of its
      Ancient and Present Condition.’ By A. H. Holdsworth. London,

It is probable that Newcomen was well aware of the experiments of Savery
on steam while the latter was living at Modbury, about fifteen miles
distant. It will be remembered that Savery was greatly hampered in his
earlier contrivances by the want of skilled workmen; and as Newcomen had
the reputation of being one of the cleverest blacksmiths in the county,
it is supposed that he was employed to make some of the more intricate
parts of Savery’s engine. At all events, he could scarcely fail to hear
from the men of his trade in the neighbourhood, what his speculative
neighbour at Modbury was trying to compass in the invention of an engine
for the purpose of raising water by fire. He was certainly occupied in
studying the subject about the same time as Savery; and Switzer says he
was well informed that “Mr. Newcomen was as early in his invention as Mr.
Savery was in his, only the latter being nearer the Court, had obtained
the patent before the other knew it; on which account Mr. Newcomen was
glad to come in as a partner to it.”[40]

Another account[41] states that a draft of Savery’s engine having come
under Newcomen’s notice, he proceeded to make a model of it, which he
fixed in his garden, and soon found out its imperfections. He entered
into a correspondence on the subject with the learned and ingenious Dr.
Hooke, then Secretary to the Royal Society, a man of remarkable ingenuity,
and of great mechanical sagacity and insight. Newcomen had heard or read
of Papin’s proposed method of transmitting motive power to a distance by
creating a vacuum under a piston in a cylinder, and transmitting the power
through pipes to a second cylinder near the mine. Dr. Hooke dissuaded
Newcomen from erecting a machine on this principle, as a waste of time and
labour; but he added the pregnant suggestion, “could he (meaning Papin)
make a speedy vacuum under your piston, your work were done.”

    [40] Switzer, ‘Introduction to a System of Hydrostatics and
      Hydraulics,’ p. 342.

    [41] Harris, ‘Lexicon Technicum.’

The capital idea thus cursorily thrown out--of introducing a moveable
diaphragm between the active power and the vacuum--set Newcomen at
once upon the right track. Though the suggestion was merely that of a
thoughtful bystander, it was a most important step in the history of the
invention, for it contained the very principle of the atmospheric engine.
Savery created his vacuum by the condensation of steam in a closed vessel,
and Papin created his by exhausting the air in a cylinder fitted with a
piston, by means of an air-pump. It remained for Newcomen to combine the
two expedients--to secure a sudden vacuum by the condensation of steam;
but, instead of employing Savery’s closed vessel, he made use of Papin’s
cylinder fitted with a piston. After long scheming and many failures,
he at length succeeded, in the year 1705,[42] in contriving a model that
worked with tolerable precision; after which he sought for an opportunity
of exhibiting its powers in a full-sized working engine. It ought to be
mentioned, that in the long course of experiments conducted by Newcomen
with the object of finding out the new motive power, he was zealously
assisted throughout by one John Calley, a glazier of Dartmouth, of whom
nothing further is known than that he was Newcomen’s intimate friend,
of the same religious persuasion, and afterwards his partner in the
steam-engine enterprise.

    [42] It has been stated that Newcomen took out a patent for his
      invention in 1705; but this is a mistake, as no patent was
      ever taken out by Newcomen. It is supposed that Savery, having
      heard of his invention, gave him notice that he would regard
      his method of producing a speedy vacuum by condensation, as
      an infringement of his patent, and that Newcomen accordingly
      agreed to give him an interest in the new engine during the
      term of Savery’s patent. It will, however, be observed that
      the principle on which Newcomen’s engine worked was entirely
      different from that of Savery.

Newcomen’s engine may be thus briefly described:--The steam was generated
in a separate boiler, as in Savery’s engine, from which it was conveyed
into a vertical cylinder underneath a piston fitting it closely, but
moveable upwards and downwards through its whole length. The piston was
fixed to a rod, which was attached by a joint or a chain to the end of
a lever vibrating upon an axis, the other end being attached to a rod
working a pump. When the piston in the cylinder was raised, steam was let
into the vacated space through a tube fitted into the top of the boiler,
and mounted with a stopcock. The pump-rod at the further end of the lever
being thus depressed, cold water was applied to the sides of the cylinder,
on which the steam within it was condensed, a vacuum was produced, and the
external air, pressing upon the top of the piston, forced it down into
the empty cylinder. The pump-rod was thereby raised; and the operation
of depressing and raising it being repeated, a power was thus produced
which kept the pump continuously at work. Such, in a few words, was the
construction and action of Newcomen’s first engine.

It will thus be observed that this engine was essentially different in
principle from that of Savery. While the latter raised water partly by
the force of steam and partly by the pressure of the atmosphere, that
of Newcomen worked entirely by the pressure of the atmosphere, steam
being only used as the most expeditious method of producing a vacuum.
The engine was, however, found to be very imperfect. It was exceedingly
slow in its motions; much time was occupied in condensing the contained
steam by throwing cold water on the outside of the cylinder; and as the
boiler was placed immediately under the cylinder, it was not easy to
prevent the cold water from splashing it, and thus leading to a further
loss of heat. To remedy these imperfections, Newcomen and Calley altered
the arrangement; and, instead of throwing cold water on the outside of
the cylinder, they surrounded it with cold water. But this expedient was
also found inconvenient, as the surrounding water shortly became warm,
and ceased to condense until replaced by colder water; but the colder it
was the greater was the loss of heat by condensation, before the steam
was enabled to fill the cylinder again on each ascent of the piston.

Clumsy and comparatively ineffective though the engine was in this form,
it was, nevertheless, found of some use in pumping water from mines.
In 1711 Newcomen and Calley made proposals to the owners of a colliery
at Griff, in Warwickshire, to drain the water from their pits, which
until then had been drained by the labour of horses; but, the owners not
believing in the practicability of the scheme, their offer was declined.
In the following year, however, they succeeded in obtaining a contract
with Mr. Back, for drawing the water from a mine belonging to him near
Wolverhampton. The place where the engine was to be erected being near to
Birmingham, the ironwork, the pump-valves, clacks, and buckets, were for
the most part made there, and removed to the mine, where they were fitted
together. Newcomen had great difficulty at first in making the engine go;
but after many laborious attempts he at last partially succeeded. It was
found, however, that the new method of cooling the cylinder by surrounding
it with cold water did not work so well in practice as had been expected.
The vacuum produced was very imperfect, and the action of the engine was
both very slow and very irregular.

While the engine was still in its trial state, a curious accident occurred
which led to another change in the mode of condensation, and proved of
essential importance in establishing Newcomen’s engine as a practicable
working power. The accident was this: in order to keep the cylinder as
free from air as possible, great pains were taken to prevent it passing
down by the side of the piston, which was carefully wrapped with cloth or
leather; and, still further to keep the cylinder air-tight, a quantity
of water was kept constantly laying on the upper side of the piston. At
one of the early trials the inventors were surprised to see the engine
make several strokes in unusually quick succession; and on searching for
the cause, they found it to consist in _a hole in the piston_, which had
let the cold water in a jet into the inside of the cylinder, and thereby
produced a rapid vacuum by the condensation of the contained steam. A new
light suddenly broke upon Newcomen. The idea of condensing by injection
of cold water directly into the cylinder, instead of applying it on the
outside, at once occurred to him; and he proceeded to embody the expedient
which had thus been accidentally suggested, as part of his machine. The
result was the addition of the injection-pipe, through which, when the
piston was raised and the cylinder was full of steam, a jet of cold water
was thrown in, and the steam being suddenly condensed, the piston was at
once driven down by the pressure of the atmosphere.

An accident of a different kind shortly after led to the improvement of
Newcomen’s engine in another respect. To keep it at work, one man was
required to attend the fire, and another to turn alternately the two
cocks, one admitting the steam into the cylinder, the other admitting
the jet of cold water to condense it. The turning of these cocks was easy
work, usually performed by a boy. It was, however, a very monotonous duty,
though requiring constant attention. To escape the drudgery and obtain an
interval for rest, or perhaps for play, a boy named Humphrey Potter, who
turned the cocks, set himself to discover some method of evading his task.
He must have been an ingenious boy, as is clear from the arrangement he
contrived with this object. Observing the alternate ascent and descent
of the beam above his head, he bethought him of applying the movement
to the alternate raising and lowering of the levers which governed the
cocks. The result was the contrivance of what he called the _scoggan_,[43]
consisting of a catch worked by strings from the beam of the engine. This
arrangement, when tried, was found to answer the purpose intended. The
action of the engine was thus made automatic; and the arrangement, though
rude, not only enabled Potter to enjoy his play, but it had the effect of
improving the working power of the engine itself; the number of strokes
which it made being increased from six or eight to fifteen or sixteen in
the minute. This invention was afterwards greatly improved by Mr. Henry
Beighton, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who added the plug-rod and hand-gear. He
did away with the catches and strings of the boy Potter’s rude apparatus,
and substituted a rod suspended from the beam, which alternately opened
and shut the tappets attached to the steam and injection cocks.

[Illustration: NEWCOMEN’S ENGINE.[44]]

    [43] _Scogging_ is a north country word, meaning skulking one’s
      work, from which probably the boy gave the contrivance its name.
      Potter, however, grew up to be a highly-skilled workman. He went
      abroad about the year 1720, and erected an engine at a mine in
      Hungary, described by Leupold in his ‘Theatrum Machinarum,’ with
      many encomiums upon Potter, who was considered the inventor.

    [44] The illustration shows the several parts of Newcomen’s
      atmospheric engine. _a_ is the boiler; _b_, the piston moving
      up and down; _c_, the cylinder; _d_, a pipe proceeding from the
      top of the boiler, and inserted into the bottom of the cylinder,
      having a cock, _e_, to interrupt the flow of steam at pleasure;
      _f_, cold-water cistern, from which the cold water is conveyed
      by the pipe _g_, called the injection-pipe, and thrown in a jet
      into the cylinder, _b_, on turning the injection-cock, _h_;
      the snifting-valve, _i_, enables the air to escape from the
      cylinder, while the siphon-pipe, _j_, enables the condensed
      steam to flow from the same cavity in the form of water; _k_,
      the main lever beam; _l_, the counterpoise or weight hung on the
      balance-beam, or on _m_, the pump-rod which works the pump, _n_.

Thus, step by step, Newcomen’s engine grew in power and efficiency,
and became more and more complete as a self-acting machine. It will be
observed that, like all other inventions, it was not the product of any
one man’s ingenuity, but of many. One contributed one improvement, and
another another. The essential features of the atmospheric engine were
not new. The piston and cylinder had been known as long ago as the time
of Hero. The expansive force of steam and the creation of a vacuum by its
condensation had been known to the Marquis of Worcester, Savery, Papin,
and many more. Newcomen merely combined in his machine the result of their
varied experience, and, assisted by the persons who worked with him, down
to the engine-boy Potter, he advanced the invention several important
stages; so that the steam-engine was no longer a toy or a scientific
curiosity, but had become a powerful machine capable of doing useful work.

The comparative success which attended the working of Newcomen’s first
engine at the colliery near Wolverhampton, shortly induced other owners of
coal-mines to adopt it. There were great complaints in the north, of the
deeper mines having become unworkable. All the ordinary means of pumping
them clear of water had failed. In their emergency, the colliery-owners
called Newcomen and Calley to their aid. They were invited down to
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the neighbourhood of which town they erected their
second and third engines. They were next summoned to Leeds, and erected
their fourth engine at Austhorpe, in 1714. It was the sight of this engine
at work which first induced Smeaton, when a boy, to turn his attention to
mechanics, and eventually led him to study the atmospheric-engine, with a
view to its improvement. The cylinder of the engine erected at Austhorpe,
like those which had preceded it, was about 23 inches in diameter, and
made about fifteen strokes a minute. The pumps, which were in two lifts,
and of 9 inches bore, drew the water from a depth of 37 yards. The
patentees had 250_l._ a year for working and keeping the engine in order.
Calley superintended its erection, and afterwards its working; but he did
not long survive its completion, as he died at Austhorpe in 1717.

The next engines were erected by Newcomen in Cornwall, where there was as
great a demand for increased pumping-power as in any of the collieries of
the north. The first of Newcomen’s construction in Cornwall was erected
in 1720, at the Wheal Fortune tin mine, in the parish of Ludgvan, a
few miles north-east of Penzance. The mine was conducted by Mr. William
Lemon, the founder of the fortunes of the well-known Cornish family. He
was born in a humble station in life, from which he honourably raised
himself by his great industry, ability, and energy. He began his career
as a mining-boy; was at an early age appointed one of the managers of a
tin-smelting house at Chiandower, near Penzance; and after the experience
gained by him in that capacity he engaged in the working of the Wheal
Fortune mine. With the help of Newcomen’s engine, the enterprise proved
completely successful; and after realising a considerable sum he removed
to Truro, and began working the great Gwennap mines on such a scale as
had never before been known in Cornwall.[45]

    [45] Mr. Lemon eventually became the principal merchant and
      tin-smelter of Cornwall. Mr. Davies Gilbert says:--“The energies
      of his mind were not limited to these undertakings, great
      though they were. He cultivated a taste for literature, and,
      which is extremely unusual, acquired, amidst business, and at a
      middle age, the power of reading the classic authors in their
      original language.... He was distinguished in his district as
      “the great Mr. Lemon,” but such were the impressions of his
      abilities, his exertions, and general merit, that a progress so
      rapid and unexampled does not appear to have excited envy, or
      any of those bad passions which usually alloy the enjoyment of
      prosperity.”--‘History of Cornwall,’ ii. 84.

The Wheal Fortune engine was on a larger scale than any that had yet been
erected, the cylinder being 47 inches in diameter, making about fifteen
strokes a minute. It drew about a hogshead of water at each stroke, from
a pump 30 fathoms deep, through pit-barrels 15 inches in diameter, and
its performances were on the whole regarded as very extraordinary. The
principal objection to its use consisted in the very large quantity of
coal that it consumed and the heavy cost of maintaining it in working
order. There was a great waste, especially in boilers, the making of which
was then ill understood. Smeaton relates that in the course of four years’
working of the first Austhorpe engine, not fewer than four boilers were
burnt out. The Wheal Fortune engine, however, answered its purpose. It
kept down the water sufficiently to enable Mr. Lemon to draw up his tin,
and on leaving the mine, he took with him to Truro a clear sum of ten
thousand pounds. The engine-house is now in ruins, and presents a highly
picturesque appearance, as seen from the heights of Trewal, reminding one
of a Border Peel rather than of a mining engine-house.


[By R. P. Leitch.]]

Another of Newcomen’s engines was erected about the same time at the
Wheal Rose mine, a few miles north of Redruth. The engineer appointed
to superintend its erection was Joseph Hornblower, who came from
Staffordshire for the purpose about the year 1725. Mr. Cyrus Redding, one
of Hornblower’s descendants, says, “how he became in any way connected
with Newcomen must have arisen from the latter being at Bromsgrove, when
he visited Mr. Potter, who got him to build one of his newly-invented
engines at Wolverhampton in 1712.”[46] Another engine was afterwards
erected by Hornblower at Wheal Busy, or Chacewater, and a third at
Polgooth--all rich and well-known mines in Cornwall.

[Illustration: POLGOOTH.]

    [46] “It may be interesting to know that it required three hands
      to work Newcomen’s first engines. I have heard it said that
      when the engine was stopped, and again set at work, the words
      were passed “Snift Benjy!” “Blow the fire, Pomery!” “Work
      away, Joe!” The last let in the condensing water. Lifting the
      condensing clack was called “snifting,” because on opening
      the valve, the air rushing through it made a noise like a man
      snifting. The fire was increased through artificial means by
      another hand, and all being ready, the machine was set in motion
      by a third.”--Cyrus Redding, ‘Yesterday and To-day.’ London,
      1863. The “snifting clack” was a valve in the cylinder opening
      outwards, which permitted the escape of air or permanently
      elastic fluid, which could not be condensed by cold and run off
      through the eduction-pipe.

Though the use of Newcomen’s engine rapidly extended, nothing is known of
the man himself during this time. All over the mining districts his name
was identified with the means employed for pumping the mines clear of
water, and thereby enabling an important branch of the national industry
to be carried on; but of Newcomen’s personal history, beyond what has
been stated above, we can gather nothing. It is not known when or where
he died, whether rich or poor. The probability is that, being a person
of a modest and retiring disposition, without business energy, and having
secured no protection for his invention, it was appropriated and made use
of by others, without any profit to him, whilst he quietly subsided into
private life. It is supposed that he died at Dartmouth about the middle
of last century; but no stone marks the place where he was laid. The
only memorial of Newcomen to be found at his native place is the little
steam-boat called by his name, which plies between Totness and Dartmouth.

During Newcomen’s lifetime the proposal was revived of applying the
steam-engine to the propelling of ships. Since Papin’s time nothing
had been accomplished in this direction. Now that the steam-engine was
actively employed in pumping mines, it was natural enough that the idea
should be revived of applying it to navigation. The most enthusiastic
advocate of the new power was Jonathan Hulls, a native of Campden, in
Gloucestershire, where he was born in 1699. He married a wife in 1719,
before he was out of his teens; an act of indiscretion in which, however,
he had the example of one no less distinguished than Shakspeare. Living
as he did in an inland country place, it seems remarkable that he should
have directed his attention to the subject of steam-navigation. We
find him making experiments with models of boats on the river Avon, at
Evesham, and in course of time he duly matured his ideas and embodied
them in his patent of 1736.[47] He proposed to place a Newcomen engine
on board a tow-boat, and by its means to work a paddle-wheel placed at
the stern. His method of converting the rectilinear motion of his piston
into a rotary one was ingenious, but, like Savery, he missed the crank
on the paddle-shaft, and many years passed before this simple expedient
was adopted.[48] “The work to be done by this machine,” said he, “will be
upon particular occasions, when all other means yet found out are wholly
insufficient. How often does a merchant wish that his ship were on the
ocean, when, if she were there, the wind would serve tolerably well to
carry him on his intended voyage, but does not serve at the same time to
carry him out of the river he happens to be in, which a few hours’ work
of the machine would do. Besides, I know engines that are driven by the
same power as this is, where materials for the purpose are dearer than in
any navigable river in England; therefore experience demonstrates that the
expense will be but a trifle to the value of the work performed by those
sort of machines, which any person that knows the nature of those things
may easily calculate.” His treatise was illustrated by a drawing, of which
the following is a copy on a reduced scale.

    [47] In 1737 he published a Treatise on the subject entitled, ‘A
      description and Draught of a new-invented Machine for carrying
      Vessels or Ships out of or into any Harbour, Port, or River,
      against Wind or Tide, and in a Calm,’ by Jonathan Hulls.


    [48] In describing his mode of obtaining rotary motion by ratchet
      wheels, a weight, and ropes, Hulls states that he uses two
      axes, one behind the other, each of which is essential to the
      object; and he then adds, that when his tow-boat is to be used
      in shallow rivers, the machine works by two cranks fixed to the
      hindermost axis; to which cranks are fixed two shafts (or poles)
      of proper length to reach the bottom of the river, and which
      move alternately forward _from the motion of the wheels by which
      the vessel is carried on_: so that the cranks, as described
      by Hulls, receive rotary motion from the axis on which they
      are placed, and do not, as has been erroneously stated, impart
      that motion to it.--Bennet Woodcroft, ‘Sketch of the Origin and
      Progress of Steam Navigation.’ London, 1848.

The inventor, aware of the novelty of his proposal and of the readiness of
the public to ridicule novelties, deprecated rash censure of his project,
and only claimed for it a fair and unprejudiced trial. In order to exhibit
the powers of his steam-boat, he constructed an engine in 1737, and had it
fixed on board a little vessel for trial in the river Avon at Evesham. The
trial was not satisfactory, and the engine was taken on shore again. “A
failure! A failure!” cried the spectators, who stigmatised the projector
as an ass. The prophet had, indeed, no honour whatever in his own country.
Long after his steam-boat experiment had been forgotten, these lines about
him were remembered:--

    “Jonathan Hull,
      With his paper skull,
    Tried hard to make a machine
  That should go against wind and tide:
      But he, like an ass,
      Couldn’t bring it to pass,
    So at last was ashamed to be seen.”[49]

Not much more is known of Jonathan Hulls’s history. In 1754 he published,
in conjunction with two others, a treatise on ‘The Art of Measuring
made Easy, by the help of a new Sliding-rule;’ and shortly after ‘The
Malt-maker’s Instructor;’ but nothing more was heard of Jonathan Hulls’s

    [49] There are several versions of the same satire current to this
      day in the villages of Campden and Hanging Aston.

We return to the Newcomen engine, which became increasingly employed as
a pumping power in all the mining districts. Borlase, writing in 1758,
says that “fire-engines” were then in regular use at North Downs near
Redruth, Pitt-louarn, Polgooth, Wheal-rith, Pool, Dolcoath, Herland, and
many other places.[50] Indeed there was scarcely a tin or copper mine of
any importance in Cornwall that had not one or more of Newcomen’s engines
at work. They were also in general use in Staffordshire, Yorkshire,
Lancashire, and Northumberland. In the latter counties, where they
were principally used for pumping water out of the coal mines, fuel was
ready at hand, cheap and abundant. But in Cornwall it was otherwise. The
coal had to be brought thither from a great distance, partly by sea and
partly by land, and the cost of carriage was very heavy. It, therefore,
became an object of much importance to reduce the consumption of fuel,
to prevent the profits of the mines being absorbed by the heavy cost of
working the pumps. This, indeed, was the great objection to Newcomen’s
engine, especially in Cornwall. The consumption of fuel at some mines
was so enormous, that it was doubtful whether the cost of steam did not
exceed that of an equal amount of horse power, and it became more and
more difficult to realise even a bare margin of profit. The two engines at
Wheal Rose and Wheal Busy, near Chacewater, of 66 and 72 inches diameter,
consumed each about thirteen tons of coal daily. To relieve the mining
interest, in some measure, from this charge, government allowed a drawback
of five shillings a chaldron on coal; but in some cases this was found
insufficient, and it began to be complained that the consumption of coal
was so great, that the mines were barely paying.

    [50] Borlase, ‘Natural History of Cornwall,’ p. 175.

Invention, however, was constantly at work, and new improvements were
from time to time introduced, with the object of economising fuel and
increasing the efficiency of the engine. Among the ingenious men who
devoted themselves to this work, were Payne, Brindley, and Smeaton. Of
these, the last especially distinguished himself by his improvements of
the Newcomen engine, which he may be said to have carried to the highest
perfection of which it was capable. His famous Chacewater engine was
the finest and most powerful work of the kind which had until then been
constructed, and it remained unrivalled until superseded by the invention
of Watt, to whose life and labours we now proceed to direct the attention
of the reader.


[By R. P. Leitch.]]



[Illustration: GREENOCK AND THE CLYDE, 1865.

[By R. P. Leitch, after a sketch by J. S. Smiles.]]

[Illustration: GREENOCK HARBOUR, 1768.

[Fac-simile of an old print.]]



James Watt was born at Greenock, on the Clyde, on the 19th of January,
1736. His parents were of the middle class, industrious, intelligent, and
religious people, with a character for probity which had descended to them
from their “forbears,” and was cherished as their proudest inheritance.
James Watt was thus emphatically well-born. His father and grandfather
both held local offices of trust, and honourable mention is made of them
in the records of Greenock. His grandfather, Thomas Watt, was the first
of the family who lived in that neighbourhood. He had migrated thither
from the county of Aberdeen, where his father was a small farmer in the
time of Charles I. It is supposed that he took part with the Covenanters
in resisting the Marquis of Montrose in his sudden descent upon Aberdeen
at the head of his wild Highlanders in the autumn of 1644; and that
the Covenanting farmer was killed in one of the battles that ensued.
The district was ravaged by the victorious Royalists; the crops were
destroyed, cattle lifted, dwellings burnt; and many of the inhabitants
fled southwards for refuge in more peaceful districts. Hence Thomas
Watt’s migration to Cartsdyke, where we find him settled as a teacher of
navigation and mathematics, about the middle of the seventeenth century.


Cartsdyke, or Crawfordsdyke, was then a village situated a little to the
east of Greenock, though now forming part of it. Crawfordsburn House,
still standing, was the residence of the lord of the manor, and is a good
specimen of the old-fashioned country mansion. It is beautifully situated
on the high ground overlooking the Clyde. In former times a green slope
stretched down from it towards the beach, along which lay the village,
consisting of about a hundred cottages, mostly thatched. Cartsdyke was,
however, in early times, a place of greater importance than Greenock.
It had a pier, which Greenock as yet had not; and from this pier the
first Clyde ship which crossed the Atlantic sailed for Darien in 1697.
What little enterprise existed in the neighbourhood was identified with
Cartsdyke rather than with Greenock; and hence Thomas Watt’s preference
for it, in setting up there as a teacher. He, too, like his sire, seems to
have been a sturdy Covenanter; for we find him, in 1683, refusing to take
the test in favour of prelacy, and he was consequently proclaimed to be
a “disorderly schoolmaster officiating contrary to law.” He nevertheless
continued the teaching of the mathematics, in which he seems to have
prospered, as, besides marrying a wife, he shortly after bought the house
and garden which he occupied, and subsequently added to his possessions
a tenement in the neighbouring village of Greenock.

From the nature of his calling, it is obvious that he must have been a
thoughtful and intelligent person;[51] and that he was a man of excellent
character is clear from the confidence he inspired in those who had the
best opportunities of knowing him. When William and Mary were confirmed
in their occupancy of the British throne, shortly after the Revolution of
1688, one of the first acts of Mr. Crawford, of Crawfordsburn, the feudal
superior, was to appoint Thomas Watt baillie of the barony--a position
of local importance, involving the direction of public affairs within the
limits of his jurisdiction.

    [51] Among the few household articles belonging to him which
      descended to his son, and afterwards to his grandson the
      engineer, were two portraits, one of Sir Isaac Newton, and the
      other of John Napier, the inventor of Logarithms.

A few years later, the Kirk Session of Greenock, having found him
“blameless in life and conversation,” appointed him an Elder of the
parish, when it became part of his duty to overlook not only the religious
observances, but the manners and morals, of the little community. Kirk
Sessions did not then confine themselves to ecclesiastical affairs, but
assumed the function of magistrates, and almost exercised the powers of
an inquisition. One of their most important duties was to provide for
the education of the rising generation, in pursuance of the injunction of
John Knox, “that no father, of what estate or condition that ever he may
be, use his children at his own fantasie, especially in their youthhead;
but all must be compelled to bring up their children in learning and
virtue,”--words which lie at the root of much of Scotland’s mental
culture, as well as, probably, of its material prosperity. In 1696 the
Act was passed by the Scotch Parliament which is usually regarded as the
charter of the Scotch parish-school system; and in the following year the
Kirk Session of Greenock proceeded to make provision for the establishment
of their parish school, which continued until the Town Council superseded
it by the Grammar School, at which James Watt, the future engineer,
received the best part of his school education.

After holding the offices of Presbytery Elder and Kirk Treasurer for
some time, Thomas Watt craved leave to retire into private life. He was
seventy years old, and felt infirmities growing upon him. The plea was
acknowledged, and the request granted; and on his retirement from office
the Kirk Session recorded on their minutes that Thomas Watt had been
found “diligent and faithful in the management of his trust.” He died at
the age of 92, and was buried in the old kirkyard of Greenock, where his
tombstone is still to be seen. He is there described as “Professor of
Mathematics in Crawfordsdyk.” Not far from his grave lie, “mouldering in
silent dust,” the remains of Burns’s Highland Mary, who died while on a
visit to a relative at Greenock.

Two sons survived the “Professor,” John and James, who were well settled
in life when the old man died. John, the elder, was trained by his father
in mathematics and surveying; for some time officiating under him as clerk
to the barony of Cartsdyke, and afterwards removing to Glasgow, where he
began business on his own account. In the year that his father died (1734)
he made the first survey of the river Clyde; but he died shortly after,
and the map was published by his nephew. James, the engineer’s father,
was bound apprentice to a carpenter and shipwright at Cartsdyke, and on
the expiry of his term he set up business for himself in the same line at

About the beginning of the last century, Greenock, now one of the busiest
ports in the kingdom, was but a little fishing-village, consisting of a
single row of thatched cottages lying parallel with the sandy beach of the
Frith of Clyde, in what was then known as “Sir John’s little bay.” Sir
John Shaw was the superior, or lord of the manor, his mansion standing
on a height overlooking the town,[52] and commanding an extensive view
of the Clyde, from Roseneath to Dumbarton. Across the water lay the
beautiful north shore, broken by the long narrow sea-lochs running far
away among the Argyleshire hills. Their waters, now plashed by the paddles
of innumerable Clyde steamers, were then only disturbed by the passing
of an occasional Highland coble; whilst their shores, now fringed with
villages, villas, and mansions, were as lonely as Glencoe.

    [52] The mansion house of the Shaws is now principally occupied as
      manorial offices. The fine old garden and pleasure-grounds have
      been presented by Sir John Shaw to the people of Greenock as a
      public park for ever. It is now called “The Watt Park,” and a
      more beautiful spot (bating the smoke of the busy town below)
      is scarcely to be found in Britain.

Greenock was in a great measure isolated from other towns by impassable
roads. The only route to Greenock, on the west, lay along the beach,
and when strong winds raised a high tide the communication was entirely
cut off. Greenock was separated from Cartsdyke, on the east, by the Ling
Burn, which was crossed by a plank, afterwards supplanted by an old ship’s
rudder; and it was about the middle of the century before a bridge was
built across the stream. The other provisions of the place for public
service and convenience were of a like rude and primitive character:
thus, Greenock could not boast of a public clock until about the middle
of the last century, when a town clock was mounted in a wooden steeple.
Till then, a dial, still standing, marked the hours when the sun shone,
and a bell hung upon a triangle summoned the people to kirk and market.
Besides the kirk, however, there was another public building--the Black
Hole, or prison, which, like the other houses in the place, was covered
with thatch. Before the prison were placed the “jougs,” as a terror to
evil-doers, as well as a few old pieces of cannon, taken from one of the
ships of the Spanish Armada wrecked near Pencores Castle. The Black Hole,
the jougs, and the cannon were thought necessary precautions against
the occasional visits to which the place was subject from the hungry
Highlandmen on the opposite shores of the firth.[53]

    [53] In 1715 the Greenock and Cartsdyke men kept strict watch and
      ward for eighty days against a threatened visit of Rob Roy and
      his caterans. The conduct of these unruly neighbours continued
      to cause apprehensions amongst the townspeople until a much
      later period, especially during fair time, then the great event
      of the year. The fair was the occasion of the annual gathering
      of the people from the neighbouring country to buy and to sell.
      Highlandmen came from the opposite shores and from the lochs
      down the Clyde, men caring little for Lowland law, but duly
      impressed by a display of force. Their boats were drawn up on
      the beach with their prows to the High Street, the north side
      of which at that time lay open to the sea. The Highland folk
      lived and slept on board, each boat having a plank or gangway
      between it and the shore. On the first day of the fair Sir John
      Shaw, the feudal superior, convened the local dignitaries, the
      deacons and the trades, and after drinking the King’s health
      and throwing the glasses amongst the populace, they formed in
      procession and perambulated the town.

The prosperity of Greenock dates from the year 1707, shortly after the
Union with England. The British Parliament then granted what the Scottish
Parliament had refused--the privilege of constructing a harbour. Before
that time there was no pier,--only a rude landing-stage which Sir John
Shaw had provided for his barge in the “Little Bay;” but the fishermen’s
boats and other small craft frequenting the place were beached in the
usual primitive way. Vessels of burden requiring to load or unload
their cargoes did so at the pier at Cartsdyke above referred to. When
the necessary powers were granted to make a harbour at Greenock, the
inhabitants proceeded to tax themselves to provide the necessary means,
paying a shilling and fourpence for every sack of malt brewed into ale
within the barony; ale, not whisky, being then the popular drink of
Scotland. The devotion of the townspeople to their “yill caups” must have
been considerable, as the harbour was finished and opened in 1710, and in
thirty years the principal debt was paid off.

In course of time Greenock was made a custom-house port, and its trade
rapidly increased. The first solitary vessel, freighted with Glasgow
merchandise for the American colonies, sailed from the new harbour in
1719; and now the custom-house dues collected there amount to more than
six times the whole revenue of Scotland in the time of the Stuarts.

Here James Watt, son of the Cartsdyke teacher of mathematics, and father
of the engineer, began business about the year 1730. His occupation was of
a very miscellaneous character, and embraced most branches of carpentry.
He was a housewright, shipwright, carpenter, and undertaker, as well as
a builder and contractor, having in the course of his life enlarged the
western front of Sir John Shaw’s mansion-house, and designed and built
the Town-hall and Council-chambers. To these various occupations Mr. Watt
added that of a general merchant. He supplied the ships frequenting the
port with articles of merchandise as well as with ships’ stores. He also
engaged in foreign mercantile ventures, and held shares in several ships.

Three months after the death of his father, to a share of whose property
he succeeded, Mr. Watt purchased a house on the Mid-Quay Head, at the
lower end of William-street, with a piece of ground belonging to it, which
extended to the beach. On this piece of ground stood Watt’s carpenter’s
shop, in which a great deal of miscellaneous work was executed--household
furniture and ships’ fittings, chairs, tables, coffins, and capstans, as
well as the ordinary sorts of joinery; while from his stores he was ready
to supply blocks, pumps, gun-carriages, dead-eyes, and other articles used
on board ship. He was ready to “touch” ships’ compasses, and to adjust
and repair nautical instruments generally; while on an emergency he could
make a crane for harbour uses--the first in Greenock having been executed
in his shops, and erected on the pier for the convenience of the Virginia
tobacco-ships beginning to frequent the harbour. These multifarious
occupations were necessitated by the smallness of the place, the business
of a single calling being as yet too limited to yield a competency to an
enterprising man, or sufficient scope for his powers.

Being a person of substance and respectability, Mr. Watt was elected by
his fellow townsmen to fill various public offices, such as trustee for
the burgh fund, town councillor, treasurer, and afterwards baillie or
chief magistrate. He also added to his comfort as well as to his dignity
by marrying a wife of character, Agnes Muirhead, a woman esteemed by
her neighbours for her graces of person, as well as of mind and heart.
She is said to have been not less distinguished for her sound sense and
good manners than for her cheerful temper and excellent housewifery.[54]
Such was the mother of James Watt. Three of her five children died in
childhood; John, her fifth son, perished at sea when on a voyage to
America in one of his father’s ships; and James, the fourth of the family,
remained her only surviving child. He was born in the house which stood
at the corner between the present Dalrymple-street and William-street,
since taken down and replaced by the building now known as the “James Watt

    [54] Some of her neighbours thought her stately and unbending, and
      that she affected a superior style of living. In the ‘Memorials
      of Watt,’ by the late George Williamson, Esq., Greenock, are
      to be found many curious and interesting details as to the
      Watt family; collected partly from tradition and partly from
      local records. Of Mrs. Watt’s “superior style of living,”
      compared with the custom of the period, the following anecdote
      is given:--“One of the author’s informants on such points,
      a venerable lady in her eightieth year, was wont to speak of
      the worthy baillie’s wife with much characteristic interest
      and animation. As illustrative of the internal economy of the
      family, the old lady related an occasion on which she had spent
      an evening, when a girl, at Mrs. Watt’s house, and remembered
      expressing with much naïveté to her mother on returning home,
      her childish surprise that ‘Mrs. Watt had _two_ lighted candles
      on the table.’ Among these and other reminiscences of her youth,
      our venerable informant described James Watt’s mother, in her
      expressive Doric, as ‘a braw, braw woman--none now to be seen
      like her.’” p. 128–9.


[By R. P. Leitch.]]

From his earliest years James Watt was of an extremely fragile
constitution, requiring the tenderest nurture. Struggling as it were for
life all through his childhood, he acquired an almost feminine delicacy
and sensitiveness, which made him shrink from the rough play of robust
children; and hence, during his early years, his education was entirely
conducted at home. His mother taught him reading, and his father a little
writing and arithmetic. His mother, to amuse him, encouraged him to draw
with a pencil on paper, or with chalk upon the floor; and his father
supplied him with a few tools from the carpenter’s shop, which he soon
learnt to handle with expertness. In such occupations he found the best
resource against _ennui_. He took his toys to pieces, and out of the parts
ingeniously constructed new ones. The mechanical dexterity which he thus
cultivated even as a child was probably in a great measure the foundation
upon which he built the speculations to which he owes his glory; nor,
without his early mechanical training, is there reason to believe that
he would afterwards become the improver and almost the creator of the

The invalid thus passed his early years almost entirely in the society
of his mother, whose gentle nature, strong good sense, and unobtrusive
piety, exercised a most beneficial influence in the formation of his
character. Nor were his parents without their reward; for as the boy grew
up to manhood he repaid their anxious care with obedience, respect, and
affection. Mrs. Watt was in after life accustomed to say that the loss of
her only daughter, which she had felt so severely, had been fully made up
to her by the dutiful attentions of her son.

Spending his life indoors, without exercise, his nervous system became
preternaturally sensitive. He was subject to violent sick headaches, which
confined him to his room for weeks together; and it almost seems a marvel
that, under such circumstances, he should have survived his boyhood. It is
in such cases as his that indications of precocity are generally observed;
and parents would be less gratified at their display if they knew that
they are usually the symptoms of disease. Several remarkable instances of
this precocity are related of Watt. On one occasion, when he was bending
over the hearth with a piece of chalk in his hand, a friend of his father
said, “You ought to send that boy to a public school, and not allow him to
trifle away his time at home.” “Look how my child is occupied,” said the
father, “before you condemn him.” Though only six years old, it is said
he was found trying to solve a problem in geometry.

On another occasion he was reproved by Mrs. Muirhead, his aunt, for his
indolence at the tea-table. “James Watt,” said the worthy lady, “I never
saw such an idle boy as you are: take a book or employ yourself usefully;
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.” In the view of M. Arago, the little
James before the tea-kettle becomes “the great engineer, preparing the
discoveries which were soon to immortalize him.” In our opinion the
judgment of the aunt was the truest. There is no reason to suppose that
the mind of the boy was occupied with philosophical theories on the
condensation of steam, which he compassed with so much difficulty in his
maturer years. This is more probably an afterthought borrowed from his
subsequent discoveries. Nothing is commoner than for children to be amused
with such phenomena, in the same way that they will form air-bubbles in a
cup of tea, and watch them sailing over the surface till they burst. The
probability is that little James was quite as idle as he seemed.

When he was at length sent to Mr. M‘Adam’s commercial school, the change
caused him many trials and much suffering. He found himself completely
out of place in the midst of the boisterous juvenile republic. Against
the tyranny of the elders he was helpless; their wild play was most
distasteful to him; he could not join in their sports, nor roam with
them along the beach, nor shy stones into the water, nor take part in
their hazardous exploits in the harbour. Accordingly they showered upon
him contemptuous epithets; and the school being composed of both sexes,
the girls joined in the laugh. He shone as little in the class as in
the playground. He did not possess that parrot power of learning and
confidence in self necessary to achieve distinction at school; and he was
even considered dull and backward for his age.[55] His want of progress
may, however, in some measure be accounted for by his almost continual
ailments, which sometimes kept him for weeks together at home. It was
not until he reached the age of about thirteen or fourteen, when he was
put into the mathematical class, that his powers appeared to develop
themselves, and from that time he made rapid progress.

    [55] The truth in regard to young Watt’s first years in the
      public school is, that, owing doubtless to infirm health, to
      the suffering and depression which affected his whole powers,
      he was prevented for a considerable time displaying even a
      very ordinary and moderate aptitude for the common routine of
      school lessons; and during those years he was regarded by his
      schoolmasters as slow and inapt. Although to some minds facts
      of such a nature may be conceived to mar the romance of a great
      man’s history, yet, seeing they rest on authenticity which
      cannot be impugned, there appears no reasonable ground on which
      it may be thought that they ought to be passed over as if they
      had not existed, or were altogether unfounded.--Williamson’s
      ‘Memorials of Watt,’ p. 130.

When not quite fourteen, he was taken by his mother for change of air
to Glasgow, then a quiet place without a single long chimney, somewhat
resembling a rural market-town of the present day. He was left in charge
of a relation, and his mother returned to Greenock. But he proved so
wakeful during the visit, and so disposed to indulge in that habit of
storytelling, which even Sir Walter Scott could afterwards admire in him,
that Mr. Watt was very soon written to by his friend, and entreated to
return to Glasgow and take home his son. “I cannot stand the excitement
he keeps me in,” said Mrs. Campbell; “I am worn out for want of sleep.
Every evening, before retiring to rest, he contrives to engage me in
conversation, then begins some striking tale, and whether humorous or
pathetic, the interest is so overpowering, that the family all listen to
him with breathless attention, and hour after hour strikes unheeded.”
He was taken back to Greenock accordingly, and, when well enough, was
sent to the Grammar School of the town, then kept by Mr. Robert Arrol.
Under him, Watt made fair progress in the rudiments of Latin and Greek;
but he was still more successful in the study of mathematics, which he
prosecuted under Mr. John Marr. It was only when he entered on this branch
of learning that he discovered his strength, and he very soon took the
lead in his class.

When at home the boy continued to spend much of his time in drawing, or
in cutting or carving with his penknife, or in watching the carpenters
at work in his father’s shop, sometimes trying his own hand at making
little articles with the tools which lay about. In this he displayed a
degree of dexterity which seemed so remarkable that the journeymen were
accustomed to say of him that “little Jamie had gotten a fortune at his
fingers’ ends.” Even when he had grown old he would recall to mind the
pleasure as well as the profit which he had derived from working in his
shirt-sleeves in his father’s shop. He was, in fact, educating himself
in the most effectual manner in his own way; learning to use his hands
dexterously; familiarising himself with the art of handling tools; and
acquiring a degree of expertness in working with them in wood and metal,
which eventually proved of the greatest value to him. At the same time he
was training himself in habits of application, industry, and invention.
Most of his spare time was thus devoted to mechanical adaptations of his
own contrivance. A small forge was erected for him, and a bench fitted
up for his special use; and there he constructed many ingenious little
objects, such as miniature cranes, pulleys, pumps, and capstans. Out of a
large silver coin he fabricated a punch-ladle, which is still preserved.
But the kind of work which most attracted him was the repairing of ships’
compasses, quadrants, and nautical instruments, in executing which he
exhibited so much neatness, dexterity, and accuracy, that it eventually
led to his selection of the business he determined to follow,--that of a
mathematical instrument maker.

The boy at the same time prosecuted his education at school; his improving
health enabling him to derive more advantage from the instructions of his
masters than in the earlier part of his career. Not the least influential
part of his training, as regarded the formation of his character,
consisted, as already observed, in the example and conversation of his
parents at home. His frequent illnesses brought him more directly and
continuously under their influence than is the case with most boys of
his age; and reading became one of his chief sources of recreation and
enjoyment. His fathers library-shelf contained well-thumbed volumes of
Boston, Bunyan, and ‘The Cloud of Witnesses,’ with Henry the Rymer’s ‘Life
of Wallace,’ and other old ballads, tattered by frequent use. These he
devoured greedily, and re-read until he had most of them by heart. His
father would also recount to him the sufferings of the Covenanters,--the
moors and mosses which lay towards the south of Greenock having been
among their retreats during the times of the persecution. Then there
were the local and traditionary stories of the neighbourhood,--such as
the exploits of the Greenock men under Sir John Shaw, at Worcester, in
1651,[56]--together with much of that unwritten history, heard only around
firesides, which kindles the Scotchman’s nationality, and influences his
future life.

    [56] The Shaw baronetcy was the reward of the feudal superior’s
      services on the occasion. The banner carried by the tenantry in
      the civil war was long preserved in Greenock, and was hung up
      with the other town flags in one of the public rooms.

We may here mention, in passing, that one of the most vividly-remembered
incidents of James Watt’s boyhood was the Stuart rebellion of the
“Forty-five,” which occurred when he was about ten years old. Watt himself
is so intimately identified with the material progress of the nineteenth
century, that it strikes one almost with surprise that he should have
been a spectator, in however remote a degree, of incidents belonging to
an altogether different age. The Stuart Rebellion may be said to have
been the end of one epoch and the beginning of another; for certain it is
that the progress of Scotland as an integral part of the British empire,
and the growth of its skilled industry--which the inventions of Watt did
so much to develop--appeared as if to spring from the very ashes of the
rebellion. Like other lowland towns, Greenock was greatly alarmed at the
startling news from the Highlands of the threatened descent of the clans.
Sir John Shaw had the trades mustered for drill on the green in front of
his mansion, and held them in readiness for defence of the town, in case
of attack. Greenock was otherwise secure, being protected against the
Highlands by the Clyde; besides, the western clans were either neutral
or adhered to the house of Hanover. The Pretender with his followers
passed southward by Stirling, and only approached Greenock on their return
from England,--a half-starved and ill-clad, though still unbroken army.
They halted at Glasgow, where they levied a heavy contribution on the
inhabitants, and sent out roving parties to try their fortunes in the
neighbouring towns. A small detachment one day approached Greenock, and
came as near as the Clune Brae; but the townspeople were afoot, and on
guard; signal was given to the ships of war moored near the old battery,
and a few well-directed shots speedily sent the Highlanders to the
right-about. The alarm was over for the present; but it was renewed in the
following year, when the rumour reached Edinburgh that Prince Charles,
hunted from the Highlands, had landed at Greenock, and lay concealed
there. The consequence was that a strict search was made throughout the
town, and Mr. Watt’s premises were searched like the others; but the
Pretender had contrived to escape in another direction. Such was one of
the most memorable incidents in the boy-life of James Watt, so strangely
in contrast with the later events of his industrial career.

During holiday times, the boy sometimes indulged in rambles along the
Clyde, occasionally crossing to the north shore, and strolling up the Gare
Loch and Holy Loch, and even as far as Ben Lomond. He was of a solitary
disposition, and loved to wander by himself at night amidst the wooded
pleasure-grounds which surrounded the old mansion-house overlooking the
town, watching through the trees the mysterious movements of the stars.
He became fascinated by the wonders of astronomy, and was stimulated to
inquire into the science by the examination of the nautical instruments
which he found amongst his father’s shop-stores. For it was a peculiarity
which characterised him through life, that he could not look upon any
instrument or machine without being seized with a desire to understand its
meaning, to unravel its mystery, and master the rationale of its uses.
Before he was fifteen he had twice gone through with great attention
S’Gravande’s ‘Elements of Natural Philosophy,’ a book belonging to his
father. He performed many little experiments in chemistry, and even
contrived to make an electrical machine, much to the marvel of those
who felt its shocks. Like most invalids, he read eagerly such books on
medicine and surgery as came in his way. He went so far as to practise
dissection; and on one occasion he was found carrying off for this purpose
the head of a child who had died of some uncommon disease. “He told his
son,” says Mr. Muirhead, “that, had he been able to bear the sight of the
sufferings of patients, he would have been a surgeon.”

In his solitary rambles, his love of wild-flowers and plants lured him
on to the study of botany. Ever observant of the aspects of nature, the
violent upheavings of the mountain-ranges on the north shores of Loch
Lomond directed his attention to geology. He was a great devourer of
books; reading all that came in his way. On a friend once advising him
to be less indiscriminate in his reading, he replied, “I have never yet
read a book without gaining information, instruction, or amusement.” This
was no answer to the admonition of his friend, who merely recommended
him to bestow upon the best books the time he devoted to the worse. But
the appetite for knowledge in inquisitive minds is, during youth, when
curiosity is fresh and unslacked, too insatiable to be fastidious, and
the volume which gets the preference is usually the first which comes in
the way.

Watt was not, however, a mere bookworm. In his solitary walks through the
country he would enter the cottages of the peasantry, gather their local
traditions, and impart to them information of a similar kind from his own
ample stores. Fishing, which suited his tranquil nature, was his single
sport. When unable to ramble for the purpose, he could still indulge the
pursuit from his father’s yard, which was open to the sea, and the water
of sufficient depth at high-tide to enable vessels of fifty or sixty tons
to lie alongside.

But James Watt had now arrived at a suitable age to learn a trade; and
his rambles must come to a close. His father had originally intended him
to follow his own business; but having sustained some heavy losses about
this time--one of his ships having foundered at sea,--and observing the
strong bias of his son towards manipulative science and exact mechanics,
he at length decided to send him to Glasgow, in the year 1754, when he
was eighteen years old, to learn the trade of a mathematical instrument



When James Watt, a youth of eighteen, went to Glasgow in 1754 to learn
his trade, the place was very different from the Glasgow of to-day. Not a
steam-engine was then at work in the town; not a steam-boat disturbed the
quiet of the Clyde. There was a rough quay along the Broomielaw, then,
as the name implies, partly covered with broom. The quay was furnished
with a solitary crane, for which there was very little use, as the river
was full of sandbanks, and boats and gabberts of only six tons burden
and under could then ascend the Clyde.[57] Often for weeks together not a
single masted vessel was to be seen in the river. The principal buildings
in the town were the Cathedral and the University. The west port, now in
the centre of Glasgow, was then a real barrier between the town and the
country. The ground on which Enoch-square stands consisted chiefly of
gardens. A thick wood occupied the site of the present Custom-house and
of that part of Glasgow situated behind West Clyde-street. Blythswood
was grazing-ground. Not a house had yet been erected in Hutchinson-town,
Laurieston, Tradeston, or Bridgeton. The land between Jamaica-street on
the east, and Stobcross on the west, and south from Anderston-road to
the river, now the most densely populated parts of Glasgow, consisted
of fields and cabbage-gardens. The town had but two main streets, which
intersected each other at the Cross or Market-place, and the only paved
part of them was known as “The Plainstanes,” which extended for a few
hundred yards in front of the public offices and the Town-hall. The two
main streets contained some stately well-built houses--Flemish-looking
tenements with crow-stepped gables,--the lower stories standing on
Doric columns, under which were the principal booths or shops--small,
low-roofed, and dismal. But the bulk of the houses had only wooden fronts
and thatched roofs, and were of a very humble character. The traffic along
the unpaved streets was so small, that the carts were left standing in
them at night. The town was as yet innocent of police;[58] it contained
no Irish immigrants, and very few Highlanders. The latter then thought it
beneath them to engage in any pursuit connected with commerce; and Rob
Roy’s contempt for the wabsters of Glasgow, as described by Sir Walter
Scott in the novel, was no exaggeration. No Highland gentleman, however
poor, would dream of condemning his son to the drudgery of trade; and
even the poorest Highland cottar would shrink with loathing from the
life of a weaver or a shopkeeper. He would be a hunter, a fisher, a
cattle-lifter, or a soldier; but trade he would not touch--that he left
to the Lowlanders.[59]

[Illustration: TRONGATE, GLASGOW.]

    [57] According to Smeaton’s report in 1755, there were in spring
      tides only 3 feet 8 inches water at Pointhouse Ford. Measures
      were taken to deepen the river, and operations with that
      object were begun in 1768. Salmon abounded in the Clyde, and
      was so common that servants and apprentices were accustomed to
      stipulate that they should not have salmon for dinner more than
      a certain number of days in the week.

    [58] The “middens” in the street were sometimes complained of as
      a nuisance; and in 1776, the magistrate threatened a penalty
      of 5_s._ if middens of which complaint had been made were not
      removed within 48 hours.

    [59] The Highland gentry and people regarded the Lowlanders as
      their natural enemies, fair subjects for plunder at all times as
      opportunities offered. The Lowlanders, on their part, regarded
      the Highlanders very much as the primitive settlers of North
      America regarded the Cherokee and Chocktaw Indians. Sometimes a
      band of uncouth half-clad Highlandmen would suddenly rush down
      upon the Lowlands, swoop up all the cattle within their reach,
      and drive them off into the mountains. Hence the Lowlanders and
      the Highlanders were always in a state of feud. Long after the
      ’45 a Highlandman would “thank God that he had not a drop of
      Lowland blood in his veins.”

The principal men of business in Glasgow at the time of which we speak
were the tobacco lords--importers of that article from the plantations in
Virginia,[60]--who were often to be seen strutting along the Plainstanes,
dressed in scarlet cloaks, cocked hats, and powdered wigs; the “boddies”
who kept the adjoining shops eying them over their half-closed doors,
and humbly watching for a nod of recognition from the mighty potentates.
Yet even the greatest of the tobacco lords only lived in flats, entering
from a common stair; and the domestic accommodation was so scanty and so
primitive, that visitors were of necessity received in the bedrooms. This
circumstance seems to have had some influence in the formation of the
Clubs,[61] which then formed a curious feature of society in most Scotch
towns. They consisted of knots of men of like tastes and pursuits, who
met in the evenings at public-houses for purposes of gossip and social
drinking. There they made new and cultivated old acquaintanceships,
and exchanged news with each other. The Club combined the uses of the
newspaper and the newsroom, which now accomplish the same objects without
the drinking. But Glasgow had then no newspaper; and a London news-sheet
of a week old was looked upon as a novelty. There was no coffee-room nor
public library in the town; no theatre[62] nor place of resort open,
except the “Change-house;” so that the Club was regarded as a social
necessity. The drinking was sometimes moderate, and sometimes “hard.”
The better class confined themselves to claret and other French wines,
which were then cheap, being free from duty. Those disposed to indulge
in more frugal fare confined themselves to oat-cake and small-beer. It
was not until heavy taxes were laid on foreign wines and malt that the
hard whisky-drinking of Scotland set in. Whisky was introduced from the
Highlands shortly after the “Forty-five;” and it soon became the popular
drink. By 1780 the drinking of raw whisky in Glasgow at midday had become

    [60] The only trade which Glasgow carried on with foreign
      countries previous to the Union, was in coal, grindstones, and
      fish,--Glasgow-cured herrings being in much repute abroad. After
      the Union partnerships were formed; vessels were built down the
      Clyde, and chartered for carrying on the trade with Virginia,
      Maryland, and Carolina. The first _honest_ vessel crossed
      the Atlantic from the Clyde in 1719; in 1735 the Virginia
      merchants in Glasgow had fifteen vessels engaged in the trade,
      and the town shortly after became the great mart for tobacco.
      Of the 90,000 hogsheads imported into the United Kingdom in
      1772, Glasgow alone imported 49,000, or more than one-half.
      The American Revolution had the effect of completely ruining
      the tobacco trade of Glasgow, after which the merchants were
      compelled to turn to other fields of enterprise and industry.
      The capital which they had accumulated from tobacco enabled
      them to enter upon their new undertakings with spirit, and the
      steam-engine which had by that time been invented by their
      townsman James Watt, proved their best helper in advancing
      the prosperity of modern Glasgow. The rapidity of its progress
      may be inferred from the following facts. In 1735, though the
      Glasgow merchants owned half the entire tonnage of Scotland, it
      amounted to only 5600 tons. In that year the whole shipping of
      Scotland was only one-fortieth part of that of England: it is
      now about one-fifth. From 1752 to 1770 the total tonnage dues
      of the harbour of Glasgow amounted to only 147_l._, or equal to
      an average of about 8_l._ per annum. In 1780, the Clyde having
      been deepened in the interval, they reached 1515_l._; and in
      1854, they amounted to 86,580_l._ The increase has been quite
      as great in later years. In point of value of exports, Glasgow
      ranks fourth among the ports of the United Kingdom; and Greenock
      now takes precedence of Bristol.

    [61] For many curious particulars of Old Glasgow and its society,
      see Dr. Strang’s ‘Glasgow and its Clubs.’

    [62] a temporary wooden theatre was run up in 1752, but the
      religious prejudices of the population were violently excited
      by the circumstance, and the place was attacked by a mob and
      seriously damaged. The few persons who went there had to be
      protected from insults. In 1762, when some persons proposed
      to build a theatre, not a single individual who had ground
      within the burgh would grant them a site. Two years later the
      theatre was erected outside the precincts, and on the night on
      which it was opened it was wilfully set on fire by some persons
      instigated by the preaching of a neighbouring methodist, when
      it narrowly escaped destruction.

    [63] When the Lowlanders want to drink a cheering cup, they go
      to the public-house, called the Change-house, and call for a
      chopin of twopenny, which is their yeasty beverage, made of
      malt, not quite so strong as the table-beer of England.... The
      Highlanders, on the contrary, despise the liquor, and regale
      themselves with whisky, or malt spirit, as strong as Geneva,
      which they swallow in great quantities, without any signs of
      inebriation: they are used to it from the cradle, and find it
      an excellent preservative against the winter cold, which must
      be extreme on these mountains.--Smollett, ‘Expedition of Humphry

When young Watt arrived in Glasgow he carried with him but a small
quantity of baggage; the articles in his trunk including amongst other
things a quadrant,--probably a specimen of his own handiwork,--a leather
apron, about a score of carpenters’ and other tools, and “a pair of
bibels.” On making inquiry for a proper master, under whom to learn the
business of mathematical instrument making, it was found that there was
no such person in Glasgow. There was, however, a mechanic in the town, who
dignified himself with the name of “optician,” under whom Watt was placed
for a time. He was a sort of Jack-of-all-trades, who sold and mended
spectacles, repaired fiddles, tuned spinets, made and repaired the simpler
instruments used in mechanical drawing, and eked out a slender living by
making and selling fishing-rods and fishing-tackle. Watt was as handy at
dressing trout and salmon flies as at most other things, and his master,
no doubt, found him useful enough; but there was nothing to be learnt in
return for his services. Though his master was an ingenious workman, in a
small way, and could turn his ready hand to anything, it soon became clear
to Watt’s relations, the Muirheads, with whom he lived during his stay,
that the instructions of such an artist were little likely to advance him
in mathematical instrument making. Among the gentlemen to whom Watt was
introduced by his relatives was Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Philosophy
in Glasgow College, who strongly recommended him to proceed to London,
and there place himself under the instruction of some competent master.
Watt consulted his father on the subject, who readily gave his sanction
to the proposal; and, with a letter of introduction from Dr. Dick in his
pocket, he set out for the great city accordingly.

No stage-coach then ran between Glasgow and London; so it was determined
that young Watt should proceed on horseback, then the most convenient
and speedy mode of travelling. His chest was sent by sea. Old Mr. Watt’s
memorandum-book at Heathfield contains the following entry, under date
the 6th June, 1755:--

  “To send James Watt’s chist to the care of Mr. William Oman,
  Ventener in Leith, to be shypt for London to ye care of Captain
  William Watson, at the Hermitage, London.

    “P^d. 3_s._ 6_d._ for wagon carage to Edenbrough of chist.
    P^d. to son James 2_l._ 2_s._
    P^d. Plaster and Pomet, 1_s._ 4_d._
    P^d. 4 doz. pencels, 1_s._ 6_d._”

The “plaster and pomet” may possibly have been provided in view of the
long journey on horseback and its contingencies. It was arranged that the
youth should travel in the company of a relative, Mr. Marr, a sea-captain,
who was on his way to join his ship, then lying in the Thames. They set
out on the 7th of June, travelling by way of Coldstream and Newcastle,
where they joined the great north road, then comparatively practicable to
the south of Durham. They reached London safely on the 19th, having been
about a fortnight on the road.

Mr. Marr immediately proceeded to make inquiries for a mathematical
instrument maker with whom to place his young friend. But it was found
that a serious obstacle presented itself in the rules of the trade, which
prescribed that those employed must either be apprentices serving under
a seven years’ apprenticeship, or, if journeymen, that they should have
served for that term. Watt, however, had no intention of binding himself
to serve for so long a period, and he had no pretensions to rank as a
journeyman. His object was to learn the business in the shortest possible
time, and then return to Glasgow and set up for himself. The two went
about from shop to shop, but only met with rebuffs. “I have not yet got
a master,” Watt wrote to his father about a fortnight after his arrival;
“we have tried several, but they all made some objection or other. I find
that, if any of them agree with me at all, it will not be for less than
a year; and even for that time they will be expecting some money.”

Mr. Marr continued to exert himself on behalf of the youth. Anxious to
be employed in any way rather than not at all, Watt offered his services
gratuitously to a watchmaker named Neale, with whom Mr. Marr did business,
and he was allowed to occupy himself in his shop for a time, cutting
letters and figures in metal. At length a situation of a more permanent
character was obtained for him; and he entered the shop of Mr. John
Morgan, a respectable mathematical instrument maker in Cornhill, on the
terms of receiving a year’s instruction in return for a fee of twenty
guineas and the proceeds of his labour during that time. He soon proved
himself a ready learner and skilful workman. That division of labour,
the result of an extensive trade, which causes the best London carriages
to be superior to any of provincial construction, was even then applied
to mathematical instruments. “Very few here,” wrote Watt, “know any more
than how to make a rule, others a pair of dividers, and such like.” His
first employment was in making brass scales, rules, parallels, and the
brass-work of quadrants; and by the end of a month he was able to finish
a Hadley’s quadrant in better style than any apprentice in the shop. From
rule and quadrant making he proceeded to azimuth compasses, brass sectors,
theodolites, and the more delicate kinds of instruments. At the end of the
year he wrote home to his father that he had made “a brass sector with a
French joint, which is reckoned as nice a piece of framing-work as is in
the trade;” and he expressed the hope that he would soon be able to work
for himself, and earn his bread by his own industry.

Up to this time he had necessarily been maintained by his father, on whom
he drew from time to time. Mr. Watt’s memorandum-books show that on the
27th of June he remitted him 10_l._; on the 24th of August following he
enters: “Sent George Anderson by post 8_l._ to buy a bill of 7_l._ or
8_l._ to send Wheytbread and Gifferd, and ballance of my son’s bill, 2_l._
2_s._ 3_d._, for which ame to remite him more;” and on the 11th September
following, the balance was forwarded through the same channel. On the 24th
October, 4_l._ 10_s._ was in like manner sent to George Anderson “on son
James’s second bill;” and on the 31st December, 10_l._ was remitted, “to
be put to the credit of son James’s last bill.” To relieve his father as
much as possible for the cost of his maintenance in London, Watt lived in
a very frugal style, avoiding all unnecessary expenses. His living cost
him only eight shillings a week; and he could not reduce it below that,
he wrote to his father, “without pinching his belly.” He also sought for
some remunerative work on his own account; and when he could obtain it he
sat up at night to execute it.

During Watt’s stay in London he was in a great measure prevented from
stirring abroad by the hot press for sailors which was then going on. As
many as forty pressgangs were at work, seizing all able-bodied men they
could lay hands on. In one night they took not fewer than a thousand
men. Nor were the kidnappers idle. These were the agents of the East
India Company, who had crimping-houses in different parts of the city
for receiving the men whom they had seized upon for service in the
Indian army. Even when the demand for soldiers abated, the kidnappers
continued their trade, and sold their unhappy victims to the planters in
Pennsylvania and other North American colonies. Sometimes severe fights
took place between the pressgangs and the kidnappers for possession of
those who had been seized, the law and police being apparently powerless
to protect them. “They now press anybody they can get,” Watt wrote in the
spring of 1756, “landsmen as well as seamen, except it be in the liberties
of the city, where they are obliged to carry them before the Lord Mayor
first; and unless one be either a prentice or a creditable tradesman,
there is scarce any getting off again. And if I was carried before my
Lord Mayor, I durst not avow that I wrought in the city, it being against
their laws for any unfreeman to work even as a journeyman within the
liberties.”[64] What a curious glimpse does this give us into the practice
of man-hunting in London in the eighteenth century!

    [64] Letter to his father quoted in Muirhead’s ‘Life of Watt,’ p.

Watt’s enforced confinement, together with his sedentary habits and
unremitting labour, soon told upon his weak frame. When he hurried to
his lodgings at night, his body was wearied, and his nerves exhausted, so
that his hands shook like those of an old man; yet he persevered with the
extra work which he imposed upon himself, in order to earn a little honest
money to help to pay for his living. His seat in Mr. Morgan’s shop being
placed close to the door, which was often opened and shut in the course of
the day, he caught a severe cold in the course of the winter; and he was
afflicted by a racking cough and severe rheumatic pains, from the effects
of which he long continued to suffer. Distressed by a gnawing pain in his
back, and greatly depressed in spirits, he at length, with his father’s
sanction, determined to return to Greenock, to seek for renewal of health
in his native air. His father made him a further remittance to enable
him to purchase some of the tools required for his trade, together with
materials for making others, and a copy of Bion’s work on the construction
and use of Mathematical Instruments. Having secured these, he set out on
his return journey for Scotland, and reached Greenock in safety in the
autumn of 1756. There his health soon became sufficiently restored to
enable him to return to work; and with the concurrence and help of his
father, he shortly after proceeded to Glasgow, in his twentieth year, to
begin business on his own account.

In endeavouring to establish himself in his trade, Watt encountered
the same obstacle which in London had almost prevented his learning it.
Although there were no mathematical instrument makers in Glasgow, and it
must have been a public advantage to have so skilled a mechanic settled in
the place, Watt was opposed by the corporation of hammermen on the ground
that he was neither the son of a burgess nor had served an apprenticeship
within the borough.[65] Failing in his endeavours to open a place of
business, he next tried to prevail on the corporation to allow him to
make use of a small workshop wherein to make experiments; but this also
was peremptorily refused. The hammermen were doubtless acting in a very
narrow spirit, in thus excluding the young mechanic from the privileges
of citizenship; but such was the custom of the times,--those who were
within the favoured circles usually putting their shoulders together to
exclude those who were without. Watt had, however, already been employed
by Dr. Dick, Professor of Natural Philosophy, to repair some mathematical
instruments which had been bequeathed to the University by a gentleman in
the West Indies; and the professors, having an absolute authority within
the area occupied by the college buildings, determined to give him an
asylum there, and thus free him from the incubus of the guilds.

    [65] The following “letter of Guildry” embodied the local
      regulations which existed for the purpose of preventing “loss
      and skaith” to the burgesses and craftsmen of Glasgow by the
      intrusion of “strangers”:--“The Dean of Guild and his Council
      shall have full power to discharge, punish, and unlaw all
      persons, unfreemen, using the liberty of a freeman within the
      burgh, as they shall think fit, ay and while the said unfreemen
      be put off the town, and restrained, or else be made free with
      the town and their crafts; and sic like, to pursue, upon the
      judges competent, all persons dwelling within this burgh, and
      usurping the liberty thereof, obtain decrets against them, and
      cause the same to be put to speedy execution.”


In the heart of old Glasgow city, not far from the cathedral of St.
Mungo, which Knox with difficulty preserved from the fury of the Scotch
iconoclasts, stands the venerable University, a curiously black and
sombre building, more than 400 years old. Inside the entrance, on the
right-hand side, is a stone staircase, guarded by fabulous beasts in
stone. The buildings consist of several quadrangles; but there is not much
regularity in their design, each part seeming to stand towards the other
parts, in a state of independent crookedness and irregularity. There are
turrets in the corners of the quadrangles,--turrets with peaked tops,
like witches’ caps. In the inner quadrangle, entered from the left-hand
side of the outer court, a workshop was found for our mechanician, in
which he was securely established by the midsummer of 1757. The apartment
appropriated to Watt by the professors is still to be seen in nearly the
same rude state in which he left it. It is situated on the first floor of
the range of building forming the north-west side of the inner quadrangle,
immediately under the gallery of the Natural Philosophy class, with which
it communicates. It is lighted by three windows, two of which open into
the quadrangle, and the third, at the back, into the Professors’ court.
There is a small closet in the corner of the room, where some students
have cut their names in the plaster,--date “1713.” The access to the room
used to be from the court by a spiral stone staircase; but that entrance
is now closed. The apartment is only about twenty feet square; but it
served Watt, as it has since served others, for high thinking and noble

    [66] When we visited the room some years since, we found laid
      there the galvanic apparatus employed by Professor Thomson for
      perfecting the invention of his delicate process of signalling
      through the wires of the Atlantic Telegraph.

In addition to his workshop under the Natural Philosophy class, a shop
for the sale of his instruments was also appropriated to Watt by the
Professors. It formed the ground-floor of the house situated next to the
Principal’s Gate, being part of the University Buildings, and was entered
directly from the pavement of the High Street. It has been described to
us, on the authority of Professor Fleming, as an old house, with a sort of
arcade in front, supported on pillars. In making some alterations in the
building the pillars were too much weakened, and the house, excepting the
basement, had to be taken down. The shop occupied by Watt is the little
tenement shown on the right hand of the following engraving; but the lower
story of the building has since been altered and repaired, and is now
totally different from what it was in Watt’s time.


    [67] The illustration does not show the Inner Quadrangle, situated
      to the left of the Main Court, that part of the building having
      been added since the view was published.

Though his wants were few, and he lived on humble fare, Watt found it
very difficult to earn a subsistence by his trade. His father sent him
remittances from time to time; but the old man had suffered serious losses
in his own business, and had become much less able to help his son with
money. After a year’s trial, Watt wrote to his father, that “unless it be
the Hadley’s instruments there is little to be got by it, as at most other
jobs I am obliged to do the most of them myself; and, as it is impossible
for one person to be expert at everything, they often cost me more time
than they should do.” Of the quadrants, he could make three in a week,
with the help of a lad; but the profit upon the three was not more than
40_s._ The customers for these were very few in number, as seagoing ships
with their captains could not yet reach Glasgow.[68]

    [68] The author of ‘Glasgow, Past and Present’ thus writes:--“Last
      week (Nov. 1851) I was crossing the ferry at the west end of
      Tradeston, and in the course of our passage over we turned
      round the bow of a large ship. The ferryman, looking up to her
      leviathan bulwarks, exclaimed, ‘She came up here yesterday,
      drawing eighteen feet water!’ Now, upon this very spot seventy
      years ago, when a very little boy, I waded across the river,
      my feet never being off the ground, and the water not reaching
      above my arm-pits. The depth at that time could not have been
      much more than three feet.”

Failing sufficient customers for his instruments, Watt sent those which
he had made to Port Glasgow and Greenock, where his father helped him to
dispose of them. He also bethought him of taking a journey to Liverpool
and London, for the purpose of obtaining orders for instruments;
though, for some reason or other--most probably because he was averse to
“pushing,” and detested the chaffering of trade--his contemplated journey
was not undertaken. He therefore continued to execute only such orders as
came to him, so that his business remained very small. He began to fear
that he must give up the trade that would not keep him, and he wrote to
his father: “If this business does not succeed, I must fall into some
other.” To eke out his income, he took to map and chart selling, and,
amongst other things, offered for sale the Map of the River Clyde,[69]
originally surveyed by his uncle John.

    [69] The ‘Glasgow Courant’ of Oct. 22, 1759, contains the
      following advertisement:--

                            “_Just Published_,

        “And to be Sold by James Watt, at his Shop in the College
          of Glasgow, price 2_s._ 6_d._,

        “A large Sheet Map of the River Clyde, from Glasgow to
          Portincross, from an Actual Survey.

                            “To which is added,

        “A Draught of Part of the North Channel, with the Frith
          of Clyde according to the best authorities.”

It is well for the world at large that Watt’s maps and quadrants remained
on his hands unsold. The most untoward circumstances in life have often
the happiest results. It is not Fortune that is blind, but man. Had his
instrument-making business prospered, Watt might have become known as a
first-class maker of quadrants, but not as the inventor of the condensing
steam-engine. It was because his own special business failed that he was
driven to betake himself to other pursuits, and eventually to prosecute
the invention on which his fame mainly rests. At first he employed part
of his leisure in making chemical and other experiments; but as these
yielded him no returns in the shape of money, he was under the necessity
of making some sort of article that was in demand, and for which he could
find customers. Although he had no ear for music, and scarcely knew one
note from another, he followed the example of the old spectacle-maker,
his first master, in making fiddles, flutes, and guitars, which met with
a readier sale than his quadrants. These articles were what artists call
“pot-boilers,” and kept him in funds until a maintenance could be earned
by higher-class work. We are informed, through a lady at Glasgow, that her
father bought a flute from Watt, who said to him, in selling it: “Woe be
to ye, Tam, if you’re no guid luck; for this is the first I’ve sold!”

His friend Dr. Black, probably to furnish him with some profitable
employment, asked Watt to make a barrel-organ for him, which he at once
proceeded to construct. Watt was not the man to refuse work of any kind
requiring the exercise of constructive skill. He first carefully studied
the principles of harmony,--making science, in a measure, the substitute
for want of ear,[70] and took for his guide the profound but obscure
work on ‘Harmonics,’ published by Dr. R. Smith of Cambridge. He next
made a model of the instrument; after which he constructed the organ,
which, when finished, was considered a great success. About the same time
the office-bearers of a Mason’s Lodge in Glasgow sent to ask him if he
would undertake to build for them a finger-organ. As he had successfully
repaired an instrument of the same kind, besides making the barrel-organ,
he readily accepted the order. Watt was always, as he said, dissatisfied
with other people’s work, as well as his own; and this habit of his mind
made him study to improve upon whatever came before him. Thus, in the
process of building this organ, he devised a number of novel expedients,
such as a sustained monochord, indicators and regulators of the strength
of the blast, means of tuning the instrument according to any system of
temperament, with sundry contrivances for improving the efficiency of the
stops. The qualities of the organ when finished are said to have elicited
the surprise and admiration of musicians.[71]

    [70] General T. Perronet Thompson is another remarkable instance
      of a person without ear for music, who has mastered the
      principles of harmony and applied them in the invention of his
      “Enharmonic Organ.”

    [71] Watt seems to have made other organs besides those above
      mentioned. Not long since a barrel-organ of his construction
      was offered for sale at Glasgow. It was originally in the form
      of a table, about three feet square, having no appearance of
      a musical instrument externally. At this table, when Watt and
      his friends were seated, he would set the concealed mechanism
      in action, and surprise them with the production of the music.
      It has since been mounted with an organ front and sides, with
      gilt pipes. When in proper tune it is of considerable power and
      pleasing harmony; and continues orthodox in its psalm tunes,
      which range from “Martyrs” to the “Old Hundred.” A correspondent
      writes as follows:--“A large organ made and used by Watt when
      he had his shop in Glasgow, was disposed of by him, when he
      finally left this city. It came into the possession of the late
      Mr. Archibald M‘Lellan, coach-builder, Miller Street, Glasgow,
      and he had it fitted up in his elegant residence in that fine
      old street. I have heard it played by Mr. M‘Lellan. After his
      death it was sold, and purchased by Mr. James G. Adam of the
      Denny print-works. Mr. Adam died, and the organ was advertised
      for sale, in 1864, and purchased for 10_l._, by Adam Sim, Esq.,
      of Coulter Mains, in whose possession it now is. Mr. Sim has
      authentic documents to prove that this organ was really James

The leisure time which Watt did not occupy with miscellaneous work of
this sort, he spent in reading. He did not want for books, as the College
library was near at hand; and the professors as well as students were
willing to lend him from their stores. He was not afraid of solid, heavy,
dry books, provided he could learn something from them. All were alike
welcome; and one of his greatest pleasures was in devouring a novel,
when it fell in his way. He is even said to have occupied himself in
writing tales and verses when he had nothing else to do. As none of his
attempts have been preserved, we cannot offer an opinion upon them; but
it is doubtful whether Watt’s poetry and fiction would display the same
originality and power of invention as his steam-engine. The only youthful
exercises of his which have been preserved are anything but poetical. One
of them, at Heathfield, is a ‘Treatise on Practical Megethometry;’ and
another is a ‘Compendium of Definitions,’ in Latin, by Gerard de Vries,
both written in a neat round hand.

Like most of the Glasgow citizens of that time, Watt occasionally visited
his club, where he cultivated the society of men of greater culture and
experience than himself.[72] As he afterwards observed to a friend, “Our
conversations then, besides the usual subjects with young men, turned
principally on literary topics, religion, morality, belles-lettres,
&c.; and to those conversations my mind owed its first bias towards
such subjects, in which they were all much my superiors, I never having
attended a college, and being then but a mechanic.”

    [72] The club he frequented was called the Anderston Club, of
      which Mr. (afterwards Professor) Millar, Dr. Robert Simson, the
      mathematician, Dr. Adam Smith, Dr. Black, and Dr. Cullen, were
      members. The standing dish of the club was hen-broth, consisting
      of a decoction of “how-towdies” (fowls), thickened with black
      beans, and seasoned with pepper. Dr. Strang says Professor
      Simson was in the habit of counting the steps from his house to
      the club, so that he could tell the distance to the fraction of
      an inch. But it is not stated whether he counted the steps on
      his return, and found the number of steps the same.

There was another circumstance connected with his situation at this time
which must have been peculiarly agreeable to a young man of his character,
aspirations, and thirst for knowledge. His shop, being conveniently
situated within the College, was a favourite resort of the professors and
the students. They were attracted by the ingenious instruments and models
which the shop contained, and the pleasure always felt in witnessing the
proceedings of a skilful mechanic at his work, but more particularly by
the easy, unaffected, and original conversation of Watt himself. Though
a comparative youth, the professors were usually glad to consult him on
points of mechanical knowledge and practice; and the acuteness of his
observation, the accuracy of his knowledge, and the readiness with which
he communicated what he knew, soon rendered him a general favourite.
Among his most frequent visitors were Dr. Joseph Black, the distinguished
professor of chemistry, who there contracted a friendship with Watt which
lasted, uninterrupted, for a period of forty years, until the Doctor’s
death; Professor Simson, one of the most eminent men of his day, whom Lord
Brougham has described as the restorer of the science of geometry; Dr.
Dick, the Professor of Natural Philosophy; and Professor Anderson.[73]
Dr. Moor and Dr. Adam Smith were also frequent callers. But of all Watt’s
associates, none is more closely connected with his name and history than
John Robison, then a student at Glasgow College, and afterwards Professor
of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh.

    [73] John Anderson was a native of Greenock, and an intimate
      friend of James Watt. He was appointed professor of Hebrew in
      his twenty-seventh year, and succeeded Dr. Dick as professor of
      Natural Philosophy in 1757. Watt spent many of his evenings at
      his residence within the College, and had the free use of his
      excellent private library. Professor Anderson is entitled to the
      honour of being the first to open classes for the instruction
      of working men--“anti-toga classes,” as he called them--in the
      principles of Natural Philosophy; and at his death he bequeathed
      his property for the purpose of founding an institution with
      the same object. The Andersonian University was opened in 1796,
      long before the age of Mechanics’ Institutes.

Robison was nearer Watt’s age than the rest, and stood in the intimate
relation to him of bosom friend, as well as fellow inquirer in science.
He was handsome and prepossessing in appearance, frank and lively, full of
fancy and humour, and a general favourite in the College. He was a capital
talker, an accomplished linguist, and a good musician; yet, with all his
versatility, he was a profound thinker and a diligent student, especially
in mathematical and mechanical science, as he afterwards proved in his
elaborate ‘System of Mechanical Philosophy,’ edited by Sir David Brewster,
and his many able contributions to the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ of which
he was the designer and editor.

Robison’s introduction to Watt has been described by himself. After
feasting his eyes on the beautifully-finished instruments in his shop,
Robison entered into conversation with him. Expecting to find only a
workman, he was surprised to discover a philosopher. “I had the vanity,”
says Robison, “to think myself a pretty good proficient in my favourite
study (mathematical and mechanical philosophy), and was rather mortified
at finding Mr. Watt so much my superior. But his own high relish for
these things made him pleased with the chat of any person who had the
same tastes with himself; and his innate complaisance made him indulge
my curiosity, and even encourage my endeavours to form a more intimate
acquaintance with him. I lounged much about him, and, I doubt not, was
frequently teasing him. Thus our acquaintance began.”

In Watt’s workshop also, Robison first met Dr. Black, and there initiated
a friendship which ended only with death. “My first acquaintance with
him,” Robison afterwards wrote Watt, “began in your rooms when you were
rubbing up Macfarlane’s instruments. He used to come in, and, standing
with his back to us, amuse himself with Bird’s quadrant, whistling softly
to himself, in a manner that thrilled me to the heart.”

In 1757 Robison applied for the office of assistant to Dr. Dick, Professor
of Natural Philosophy, in the place of the son of that gentleman, who
had just died; but though he had already taken the degree of Master of
Arts, he was thought too young to hold so important an office, being
only about nineteen years old. His friends wished him to study for the
church; but, preferring some occupation in which his mechanical tastes
might be indulged, he turned his eyes to London. Furnished with letters
from Professor Dick and Dr. Simson, he obtained an introduction to
Admiral Knowles, who engaged him to take charge of his son’s instruction
while at sea. In that capacity he sailed from Spithead in 1759, with the
fleet which assisted the land forces in the taking of Quebec; he and his
pupil being rated as midshipmen in the Admiral’s ship. Robison was on
duty in the boat which carried Wolfe to the point where the army scaled
the heights of Montcalm the night before the battle; and as the sun was
setting in the west, the General, doubtless from an association of ideas
suggested by the dangers of the coming struggle, recited, in an under
tone, Gray’s ‘Elegy on a Country Churchyard;’ and when he had finished,
said, “Now, gentlemen, I would rather have been the author of that poem
than take Quebec.”

When Robison returned from his voyagings in 1763, a travelled man,--having
had the advantage, during his absence, of acting as confidential assistant
of Admiral Knowles in his marine surveys and observations,--he reckoned
himself more than on a par with Watt; but he soon found that, during the
period of his absence from Glasgow, his friend had been even busier than
himself. When they entered into conversation, he found Watt continually
striking into new paths where he was obliged to be his follower. The
extent of the mathematical instrument maker’s investigations was no less
remarkable than the depth to which he had pursued them. Not only had he
mastered the principles of engineering, civil and military, but diverged
into studies in antiquity, natural history, languages, criticism, and
art. Every pursuit became science in his hands, and he made use of his
subsidiary knowledge for the purpose of helping him towards his favourite

Before long, Watt became to be regarded as one of the ablest men about
college. “When to the superiority of knowledge in his own line,” said
Robison, “which every man confessed, there was joined the naïve simplicity
and candour of his character, it is no wonder that the attachment of
his acquaintances was so strong. I have seen something of the world,” he
continued, “and I am obliged to say that I never saw such another instance
of general and cordial attachment to a person whom all acknowledged to be
their superior. But this superiority was concealed under the most amiable
candour, and liberal allowance of merit to every man. Mr. Watt was the
first to ascribe to the ingenuity of a friend things which were very often
nothing but his own surmises followed out and embodied by another. I am
well entitled to say this, and have often experienced it in my own case.”

There are few traits in biography more charming than this generous
recognition of merit mutually attributed by the one friend to the other.
Arago, in quoting the words of Robison, has well observed that it is
difficult to determine whether the honour of having thus recorded them be
not as great as that of having inspired them.

[Illustration: THE BROOMIELAW IN 1760.]

[Illustration: PROFESSOR ROBISON, Æt. 60.

[By T. D. Scott, after Raeburn.]]



It was in the year 1759 that Robison first called the attention of his
friend Watt to the subject of the steam-engine. Robison was then only
in his twentieth, and Watt in his twenty-third year. Robison’s idea was
that the power of steam might be advantageously applied to the driving of
wheel-carriages, and he suggested that it would be the most convenient
for the purpose to place the cylinder with its open end downwards to
avoid the necessity of using a working beam. Watt admits that he was very
ignorant of the steam-engine at the time; nevertheless, he began making
a model with two cylinders of tinplate, intending that the pistons and
their connecting-rods should act alternately on two pinions attached
to the axles of the carriage-wheels. But the model, being slightly and
inaccurately made, did not answer his expectations. Other difficulties
presented themselves, and the scheme was laid aside on Robison leaving
Glasgow to go to sea. Indeed, mechanical science was not yet ripe for
the locomotive. Robison’s idea had, however, dropped silently into the
mind of his friend, where it grew from day to day, slowly and at length

At his intervals of leisure and in the quiet of his evenings, Watt
continued to prosecute his various studies. He was shortly attracted
by the science of chemistry, then in its infancy. Dr. Black was at that
time occupied with the investigations which led to his discovery of the
theory of latent heat, and it is probable that his familiar conversations
with Watt on the subject induced the latter to enter upon a series of
experiments with the view of giving the theory some practical direction.
His attention again and again reverted to the steam-engine, though he
had not yet seen even a model of one. Steam was as yet almost unknown in
Scotland as a working power. The first engine was erected at Elphinstone
Colliery, in Stirlingshire, about the year 1750; and the second more than
ten years later, at Govan Colliery, near Glasgow, where it was known
by the startling name of “The Firework.” This had not, however, been
set up at the time Watt began to inquire into the subject. But he found
that the College possessed the model of a Newcomen engine for the use of
the Natural Philosophy class, which had been sent to London for repair.
On hearing of its existence, he suggested to his friend Dr. Anderson,
Professor of Natural Philosophy, the propriety of getting back the model;
and a sum of money was placed by the Senatus at the Professor’s disposal
“to recover the steam-engine from Mr. Sisson, instrument maker, in

In the mean time Watt sought to learn all that had been written on
the subject of the steam-engine. He ascertained from Desaguliers,
from Switzer, and other writers, what had been accomplished by Savery,
Newcomen, Beighton, and others: and he went on with his own independent
experiments. His first apparatus was of the simplest possible kind. He
used common apothecaries’ phials for his steam reservoirs, and canes
hollowed out for his steam pipes.[74] In 1761 he proceeded to experiment
on the force of steam by means of a small Papin’s digester and a syringe.
The syringe was only the third of an inch in diameter, fitted with a
solid piston; and it was connected with the digester by a pipe furnished
with a stopcock, by which the steam was admitted or shut off at will. It
was also itself provided with a stopcock, enabling a communication to be
opened between the syringe and the outer air to permit the steam in the
syringe to escape. The apparatus, though rude, enabled the experimenter to
ascertain some important facts. When the steam in the digester was raised
and the cock turned, enabling it to rush against the lower side of the
piston, he found that the expansive force of the steam raised a weight of
fifteen pounds with which the piston was loaded. Then, on turning the cock
and shutting off the connexion with the digester at the same time that a
passage was opened to the air, the steam was allowed to escape, when the
weight upon the piston, being no longer counteracted, immediately forced
it to descend.

    [74] At a meeting held in Glasgow in 1839 to erect a monument
      to Watt, Dr. Ure observed:--“As to the latent heat of steam,”
      said Mr. Watt to me, “it was a piece of knowledge essential to
      my inquiries, and I worked it out myself in the best way that
      I could. I used apothecaries’ phials for my apparatus, and by
      means of them I got approximations sufficient for my purpose at
      the time.” The passage affords a striking illustration of the
      large results that may be arrived at by means of the humblest
      instruments. In like manner Cavendish, when asked by a foreigner
      to be shown over his laboratories, pointed to an old tea-tray
      on the table, containing a few watch-glasses, test papers,
      a balance, and a blowpipe, and observed, “There is all the
      laboratory I possess.”

[Illustration: PAPIN’S DIGESTER.]

Watt saw that it would be easy to contrive that the cocks should be turned
by the machinery itself instead of by the hand, and the whole be made
to work by itself with perfect regularity. But there was an objection to
this method. Water is converted into vapour as soon as its elasticity is
sufficient to overcome the weight of the air which keeps it down. Under
the ordinary pressure of the atmosphere water acquires this necessary
elasticity at 212°; but as the steam in the digester was prevented
from escaping, it acquired increased heat, and by consequence increased
elasticity. Hence it was that the steam which issued from the digester
was not only able to support the piston and the air which pressed upon
its upper surface, but the additional load with which the piston was
weighted. With the imperfect mechanical construction, however, of those
days, there was a risk lest the boiler should be burst by the steam, which
was apt to force its way through the ill-made joints of the machine. This,
conjoined with the great expenditure of steam on the high-pressure system,
led Watt to abandon the plan; and the exigencies of his business for a
time prevented him pursuing his experiments. Watt’s own account of his
early experiments will be found appended as notes to Brewster’s edition
of the articles ‘Steam and Steam-engines,’ written by Dr. Robison for the
‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ and afterwards published in a separate form.

[Illustration: THE NEWCOMEN MODEL.]

At length the Newcomen model arrived from London; and, in 1763, the little
engine, which was destined to become so famous, was put into the hands of
Watt. The boiler was somewhat smaller than an ordinary tea-kettle. The
cylinder of the engine was only of two inches diameter and six inches
stroke. Watt at first regarded it as merely “a fine plaything.” It was,
however, enough to set him upon a track of thinking which led to the most
important results. When he had repaired the model and set it to work, he
found that the boiler, though apparently large enough, could not supply
steam in sufficient quantity, and only a few strokes of the piston could
be obtained, when the engine stopped. The fire was urged by blowing, and
more steam was produced, but still it would not work properly. Exactly
at the point at which another man would have abandoned the task in
despair, the mind of Watt became thoroughly roused. “Everything,” says
Professor Robison, “was to him the beginning of a new and serious study;
and I knew that he would not quit it till he had either discovered its
insignificance, or had made something of it.” Thus it happened with the
phenomena presented by the model of the steam-engine. Watt referred to
his books, and endeavoured to ascertain from them by what means he might
remedy the defects which he found in the model; but they could tell him
nothing. He then proceeded with an independent course of experiments,
resolved to work out the problem for himself. In the course of his
inquiries he came upon a fact which, more than any other, led his mind
into the train of thought which at last conducted him to the invention of
which the results were destined to prove so stupendous. This fact was the
existence of Latent Heat.

In order to follow the track of investigation pursued by Watt, it
is necessary for a moment to revert to the action of the Newcomen
pumping-engine. A beam, moving upon a centre, had affixed to one end
of it a chain attached to the piston of the pump, and at the other a
chain attached to a piston that fitted into the steam cylinder. It was
by driving this latter piston up and down the cylinder that the pump was
worked. To communicate the necessary movement to the piston, the steam
generated in a boiler was admitted to the bottom of the cylinder, forcing
out the air through a valve, when its pressure on the under side of the
piston counterbalanced the pressure of the atmosphere on its upper side.
The piston, thus placed between two equal forces, was drawn up to the top
of the cylinder by the greater weight of the pump-gear at the opposite
extremity of the beam. The steam, so far, only discharged the office which
was performed by the air it displaced; but, if the air had been allowed
to remain, the piston once at the top of the cylinder could not have
returned, being pressed as much by the atmosphere underneath as by the
atmosphere above it. The steam, on the contrary, which was admitted by
the exclusion of the air, _could be condensed_, and a vacuum created, by
injecting cold water through the bottom of the cylinder. The piston being
now unsupported, was forced down by the pressure of the atmosphere on its
upper surface. When the piston reached the bottom, the steam was again let
in, and the process was repeated. Such was the engine in ordinary use for
pumping water at the time that Watt begun his investigations.

Among his other experiments, he constructed a boiler which showed by
inspection the quantity of water evaporated in any given time, and the
quantity of steam used in every stroke of the engine. He was astonished
to discover that a _small_ quantity of water in the form of steam, heated
a _large_ quantity of cold water injected into the cylinder for the
purpose of cooling it; and upon further examination he ascertained that
steam heated _six times_ its weight of cold water to 212°, which was
the temperature of the steam itself. “Being struck with this remarkable
fact,” says Watt, “and not understanding the reason of it, I mentioned it
to my friend Dr. Black, who then explained to me his doctrine of latent
heat, which he had taught for some time before this period (the summer of
1764); but having myself been occupied by the pursuits of business, if I
had heard of it I had not attended to it, when I thus stumbled upon one
of the material facts by which that beautiful theory is supported.”[75]

    [75] Watt’s notes to Robison’s Articles on ‘Steam and

When Watt found that water, in its conversion into vapour, became such a
reservoir of heat, he was more than ever bent on economising it; for the
great waste of heat involving so heavy a consumption of fuel, was felt
to be the principal obstacle to the extended employment of steam as a
motive power. He accordingly endeavoured, with the same quantity of fuel,
at once to increase the production of steam, and to diminish its waste.
He increased the heating surface of the boiler, by making flues through
it; he even made his boiler of wood, as being a worse conductor of heat
than the brickwork which surrounds common furnaces; and he cased the
cylinders and all the conducting-pipes in materials which conducted heat
very slowly. But none of these contrivances were effectual; for it turned
out that the chief expenditure of steam, and consequently of fuel, in the
Newcomen engine, was occasioned by the reheating of the cylinder after
the steam had been condensed, and the cylinder was consequently cooled by
the injection into it of the cold water. Nearly four-fifths of the whole
steam employed was condensed on its first admission, before the surplus
could act upon the piston. Watt therefore came to the conclusion, that to
make a perfect steam-engine, it was necessary that _the cylinder should be
always as hot as the steam that entered it_; but it was equally necessary
that the steam should be condensed when the piston descended,--nay, that
it should be cooled down below 100°, or a considerable amount of vapour
would be given off, which would resist the descent of the piston, and
diminish the power of the engine. Thus the cylinder was never to be at a
less temperature than 212°, and yet at each descent of the piston it was
to be less than 100°; conditions which, on the very face of them, seemed
to be wholly incompatible.

We revert for a moment to the progress of Watt’s instrument-making
business. The shop in the College was not found to answer, being too
far from the principal thoroughfares. If he wanted business he must go
nearer to the public, for it was evident that they would not come to him.
But to remove to a larger shop, in a more central quarter, involved an
expenditure of capital for which he was himself unequal. His father had
helped him with money as long as he could, but could do so no longer.
Though he was as much respected by his neighbours as ever, he had grown
poor by his losses; and, instead of giving help, himself needed it. Watt
therefore looked about him for a partner with means, and succeeded in
finding one in a Mr. John Craig, in conjunction with whom he opened a
retail shop in the Salt-market, nearly opposite St. Andrew’s Street, about
the year 1760; removing from thence to Buchanan’s Land, on the north side
of the Trongate, a few years later.[76] Watt’s partner was not a mechanic,
but he supplied the requisite capital, and attended to the books. The
partnership was on the whole successful, as we infer from the increased
number of hands employed. At first Watt could execute all his orders
himself, and afterwards by the help of a man and a boy; but by the end of
1764, the number of hands employed by the firm had increased to sixteen.

    [76] The following advertisement in the ‘Glasgow Journal’ of the
      1st Dec., 1763, fixes the date of this last removal:--

      “James Watt has removed his shop from the Saltmercat to Mr.
      Buchanan’s land in the Trongate, where he sells all sorts of
      Mathematical and Musical Instruments, with variety of toys, and
      other goods.”

His improving business brought with it an improving income, and
Watt--always a frugal and thrifty man--began to save a little money. He
was encouraged to economise by another circumstance--his intended marriage
with his cousin, Margaret Miller. In anticipation of this event, he had
removed from his rooms in the College to a house in Delftfield Lane--a
narrow passage then parallel with York Street, but now converted into
the spacious thoroughfare of Watt Street. Having furnished his house in a
plain yet comfortable style, he brought home his young wife, and installed
her there in July, 1764. The step was one of much importance to his
personal wellbeing. Mrs. Watt was of a lively, cheerful temperament; and
as Watt himself was of a meditative disposition, prone to melancholy, and
a frequent sufferer from nervous headache, her presence at his fireside
could not fail to have a beneficial influence upon his health and comfort.


Watt continued to pursue his studies as before. Though still occupied
with his inquiries and experiments as to steam, he did not neglect his
proper business, but was constantly on the look-out for improvements in
instrument making. A machine which he invented for drawing in perspective
proved a success; and he made a considerable number of them to order,
for customers in London as well as abroad. He was also an indefatigable
reader, and continued to extend his knowledge of chemistry and mechanics
by perusal of the best books on these sciences.

Above all other subjects, however, the improvement of the steam-engine
continued to keep the fastest hold upon his mind. He still brooded over
his experiments with the Newcomen model, but did not seem to make much
way in introducing any practical improvement in its mode of working. His
friend Robison says he struggled long to condense with sufficient rapidity
without injection, trying one expedient after another, finding out what
would do by what would _not_ do, and exhibiting many beautiful specimens
of ingenuity and fertility of resource. He continued, to use his own
words, “to grope in the dark, misled by many an _ignis fatuus_.” It was a
favourite saying of his, that “Nature has a weak side, if we can only find
it out;” and he went on groping and feeling for it, but as yet in vain.
At length light burst upon him, and all at once the problem over which he
had been brooding was solved.

One Sunday afternoon, in the spring of 1765, he went to take an afternoon
walk on the Green, then a quiet, grassy meadow, used as a bleaching and
grazing-ground. On week-days the Glasgow lasses came thither with their
largest kail-pots, to boil their clothes in; and sturdy queans might be
seen, with coats kilted, tramping blankets in their tubs. On Sundays the
place was comparatively deserted, and hence Watt, who lived close at hand,
went there to take a quiet afternoon stroll. His thoughts were as usual
running on the subject of his unsatisfactory experiments with the Newcomen
engine, when the first idea of the separate condenser suddenly flashed
upon his mind. But the notable discovery is best told in his own words,
as related to Mr. Robert Hart, many years after:--

“I had gone to take a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon. I had entered the
Green by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street, and had passed the old
washing-house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, and had gone as
far as the herd’s house, when the idea came into my mind that as steam was
an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were
made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel, it would rush into it,
and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that
I must get rid of the condensed steam and injection-water if I used a jet,
as in Newcomen’s engine. Two ways of doing this occurred to me. First, the
water might be run off by a descending pipe, if an off-let could be got
at the depth of 35 or 36 feet, and any air might be extracted by a small
pump. The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water
and air. He continued: I had not walked further than the Golf-house[77]
when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.”[78]

    [77] About the site of the Humane Society’s House.

    [78] Mr. Robert Hart’s ‘Reminiscences of James Watt,’ in
      ‘Transactions of the Glasgow Archæological Society, 1859.’

Great and prolific ideas are almost always simple. What seems impossible
at the outset appears so obvious when it is effected that we are prone to
marvel that it did not force itself at once upon the mind. Late in life
Watt, with his accustomed modesty, declared his belief that if he had
excelled, it had been “by chance and the neglect of others.” To Professor
Jardine he said “that when it was analysed the invention would not appear
so great as it seemed to be. In the state,” said he, “in which I found the
steam-engine, it was no great effort of mind to observe that the quantity
of fuel necessary to make it work would for ever prevent its extensive
utility. The next step in my progress was equally easy--to inquire what
was the cause of the great consumption of fuel: this, too, was readily
suggested, viz., the waste of fuel which was necessary to bring the whole
cylinder, piston, and adjacent parts from the coldness of water to the
heat of steam, no fewer than from fifteen to twenty times in a minute.”
The question then occurred, how was this to be avoided or remedied? It was
at this stage that the idea of carrying on the condensation in a separate
vessel flashed upon his mind, and solved the difficulty.[79]

    [79] “The last step of all,” says Professor Jardine, “was more
      difficult--the forming of the separate condensing vessel.
      The great knowledge he had acquired of the mechanical powers
      enabled him to construct it, but I have often heard him say
      this was a work of great difficulty, and that he met with many
      disappointments before he succeeded. I have often made use
      of this beautiful analysis received from Mr. Watt, in another
      department in which I have been long engaged, to illustrate and
      encourage the progress of genius in youth, to show, that once
      in possession of a habit of attention, under proper direction,
      it may be carried from one easy step to another, till the mind
      becomes qualified and invigorated for uniting and concentrating
      effort--the highest exertion of genius.”

Mankind has been more just to Watt than he was to himself. There was no
accident in the discovery. It had been the result of close and continuous
study; and the idea of the separate condenser was merely the last step
of a long journey--a step which could not have been taken unless the
road which led to it had been traversed. Dr. Black says, “This capital
improvement flashed upon his mind at once, and filled him with rapture;” a
statement which, spite of the unimpassioned nature of Watt, we can readily

On the morning following his Sunday afternoon’s walk on Glasgow Green,
Watt was up betimes making arrangements for a speedy trial of his new
plan. He borrowed from a college friend a large brass syringe, an inch and
a third in diameter, and ten inches long, of the kind used by anatomists
for injecting arteries with wax previous to dissection. The body of the
syringe served for a cylinder, the piston-rod passing through a collar of
leather in its cover. A pipe connected with the boiler was inserted at
both ends for the admission of steam, and at the upper end was another
pipe to convey the steam to the condenser. The axis of the stem of the
piston was drilled with a hole, fitted with a valve at its lower end, to
permit the water produced by the condensed steam on first filling the
cylinder to escape. The first condenser made use of was an improvised
cistern of tinned plate, provided with a pump to get rid of the water
formed by the condensation of the steam, both the condensing-pipes and
the air-pump being placed in a reservoir of cold water.

  “The steam-pipe,” says Watt, “was adjusted to a small boiler.
  When steam was produced, it was admitted into the cylinder, and
  soon issued through the perforation of the rod, and at the valve
  of the condenser; when it was judged that the air was expelled,
  the steam-cock was shut, and the air-pump piston-rod was drawn
  up, which leaving the small pipes of the condenser in a state
  of vacuum, the steam entered them and was condensed. The piston
  of the cylinder immediately rose and lifted a weight of about
  18 lbs., which was hung to the lower end of the piston-rod.
  The exhaustion-cock was shut, the steam was readmitted into the
  cylinder, and the operation was repeated. The quantity of steam
  consumed and the weights it could raise were observed, and,
  excepting the non-application of the steam-case and external
  covering, the invention was complete, in so for as regarded the
  savings of steam and fuel.”

[Illustration: WATT’S APPARATUS.]

But, although the invention was complete in Watt’s mind, it took him
many long and laborious years to work out the details of the engine.
His friend Robison, with whom his intimacy was maintained during these
interesting experiments, has given a graphic account of the difficulties
which he successively encountered and overcame. He relates that on his
return from the country, after the College vacation in 1765, he went
to have a chat with Watt and communicate to him some observations he
had made on Desaguliers’ and Belidor’s account of the steam-engine. He
went straight into the parlour, without ceremony, and found Watt sitting
before the fire looking at a little tin cistern which he had on his knee.
Robison immediately started the conversation about steam, his mind, like
Watt’s, being occupied with the means of avoiding the excessive waste of
heat in the Newcomen engine. Watt, all the while, kept looking into the
fire, and after a time laid down the cistern at the foot of his chair,
saying nothing. It seems that Watt felt rather nettled at Robison having
communicated to a mechanic of the town a contrivance which he had hit upon
for turning the cocks of his engine. When Robison therefore pressed his
inquiry, Watt at length looked at him and said briskly, “You need not fash
yourself any more about that, man; I have now made an engine that shall
not waste a particle of steam. It shall all be boiling hot,--ay, and hot
water injected, if I please.” He then pushed the little tin cistern with
his foot under the table.

Robison could learn no more of the new contrivance from Watt at that time;
but on the same evening he accidentally met a mutual acquaintance, who,
supposing he knew as usual the progress of Watt’s experiments, observed to
him, “Well, have you seen Jamie Watt?” “Yes.” “He’ll be in fine spirits
now with his engine?” “Yes,” said Robison, “very fine spirits.” “Gad!”
said the other, “the separate condenser’s the thing: keep it but cold
enough, and you may have a perfect vacuum, whatever be the heat of the
cylinder.” This was Watt’s secret, and the nature of the contrivance was
clear to Robison at once.

[Illustration: DR. JOSEPH BLACK.]

It will be observed that Watt had not made a secret of it to his other
friends. Indeed Robison himself admitted that one of Watt’s greatest
delights was to communicate the results of his experiments to others, and
set them upon the same road to knowledge with himself; and that no one
could display less of the small jealousy of the tradesman than he did. To
his intimate friend, Dr. Black, he communicated the progress made by him
at every stage; and the Doctor kindly encouraged him in his struggles,
cheered him in his encounter with difficulty, and, what was of still more
practical value at the time, he helped him with money to enable him to
prosecute his invention. Communicative though Watt was disposed to be, he
learnt reticence when he found himself exposed to the depredations of the
smaller fry of inventors. Robison says that had he lived in Birmingham
or London at the time, the probability is that some one or other of the
numerous harpies who live by sucking other people’s brains, would have
secured patents for his more important inventions, and thereby deprived
him of the benefits of his skill, science, and labour. As yet, however,
there were but few mechanics in Glasgow capable of understanding or
appreciating the steam-engine; and the intimate friends to whom he freely
spoke of his discovery were too honourable-minded to take advantage
of his confidence. Shortly after, Watt fully communicated to Robison
the different stages of his invention, and the results at which he had
arrived, much to the delight of his friend.

It will be remembered that in the Newcomen engine the steam was only
employed for the purpose of producing a vacuum, and that its working power
was in the down stroke, which was effected by the pressure of the air
upon the piston; hence it is now usual to call it the atmospheric engine.
Watt perceived that the air which followed the piston down the cylinder
would cool the latter, and that steam would be wasted in re-heating it.
In order, therefore, to avoid this loss of heat, he resolved to put an
air-tight cover upon the cylinder, with a hole and stuffing-box for the
piston-rod to slide through, and to admit steam above the piston, to act
upon it instead of the atmosphere. When the steam had done its duty in
driving down the piston, a communication was opened between the upper
and lower part of the cylinder, and the same steam, distributing itself
equally in both compartments, sufficed to restore equilibrium. The piston
was now drawn up by the weight of the pump-gear; the steam beneath it
was then condensed in the separate vessel so as to produce a vacuum, and
a fresh jet of steam from the boiler was let in above the piston, which
forced it again to the bottom of the cylinder. From an atmospheric it had
thus become a true steam-engine, and with a much greater economy of steam
than when the air did half the duty. But it was not only important to
keep the air from flowing down the inside of the cylinder: the air which
circulated within cooled the metal and condensed a portion of the steam
within; and this Watt proposed to remedy by a second cylinder, surrounding
the first with an interval between the two which was to be kept full of

One by one these various contrivances were struck out, modified, settled,
and reduced to definite plans; the separate condenser, the air and water
pumps, the use of fat and oil (instead of water as in the Newcomen engine)
to keep the piston working in the cylinder air-tight, and the enclosing
of the cylinder itself within another to prevent the loss of heat. They
were all but emanations from the first idea of inventing an engine working
by a piston, in which the cylinder should be kept continually hot and
perfectly dry. “When once,” says Watt, “the idea of separate condensation
was started, all these improvements followed as corollaries in quick
succession; so that in the course of one or two days the invention was
thus far complete in my mind.”

The next step was to construct a model engine for the purpose of embodying
the invention in a working form. With this object Watt hired an old
cellar, situated in the first wide entry to the north of the beef-market
in King Street, and there proceeded with his model. He found it much
easier, however, to prepare his plan than to execute it. Like most
ingenious and inventive men, Watt was extremely fastidious; and this
occasioned considerable delay in the execution of the work. His very
inventiveness to some extent proved a hinderance; for new expedients were
perpetually occurring to him, which he thought would be improvements, and
which he, by turns, endeavoured to introduce. Some of these expedients
he admits proved fruitless, and all of them occasioned delay. Another
of his chief difficulties was in finding competent workmen to execute
his plans. He himself had been accustomed only to small metal work, with
comparatively delicate tools, and had very little experience “in the
practice of mechanics _in great_,” as he termed it. He was therefore
under the necessity of depending, in a great measure, upon the handiwork
of others. But mechanics capable of working out Watt’s designs in metal
were then with difficulty to be found. The beautiful self-acting tools
and workmanship which have since been called into being, principally by
his own invention, did not then exist. The only available hands in Glasgow
were the blacksmiths and tinners, little capable of constructing articles
out of their ordinary walks; and even in these they were often found
clumsy, blundering, and incompetent. The result was, that in consequence
of the malconstruction of the larger parts, Watt’s first model was only
partially successful. The experiments made with it, however, served to
verify the expectations he had formed, and to place the advantages of the
invention beyond the reach of doubt. On the exhausting-cock being turned,
the piston, when loaded with 18 lbs., ascended as quick as the blow of
a hammer; and the moment the steam-cock was opened, it descended with
like rapidity, though the steam was weak, and the machine snifted at many

Satisfied that he had laid hold of the right principle of a working
steam-engine, Watt felt impelled to follow it to an issue. He could give
his mind to no other business in peace until this was done. He wrote
to a friend that he was quite barren on every other subject. “My whole
thoughts,” said he, “are bent on this machine. I can think of nothing
else.”[80] He proceeded to make another and bigger, and, he hoped, a
more satisfactory engine, in the following August; and with that object
he removed from the old cellar in King-street to a larger apartment in
the then disused pottery or delftwork near the Broomielaw. There he shut
himself up with his assistant, John Gardiner, for the purpose of erecting
his engine. The cylinder was five or six inches in diameter, with a
two-feet stroke. The inner cylinder was enclosed in a wooden steam-case,
and placed inverted, the piston working through a hole in the bottom of
the steam-case. After two months’ continuous application and labour it
was finished and set to work; but it leaked in all directions, and the
piston was far from air-tight. The condenser also was in a bad way, and
needed many alterations. Nevertheless, the engine readily worked with 10½
lbs. pressure on the inch, and the piston lifted a weight of 14 lbs. The
improvement of the cylinder and piston continued Watt’s chief difficulty,
and taxed his ingenuity to the utmost. At so low an ebb was the art of
making cylinders that the one he used was not bored but hammered, the
collective mechanical skill of Glasgow being then unequal to the boring of
a cylinder of the simplest kind; nor, indeed, did the necessary appliances
for the purpose then exist anywhere else. In the Newcomen engine a little
water was poured upon the upper surface of the piston, and sufficiently
filled up the interstices between the piston and the cylinder. But when
Watt employed steam to drive down the piston, he was deprived of this
resource, for the water and the steam could not coexist. Even if he had
retained the agency of the air above, the drip of water from the crevices
into the lower part of the cylinder would have been incompatible with
keeping the surface hot and dry, and, by turning into vapour as it fell
upon the heated metal, it would have impaired the vacuum during the
descent of the piston.

    [80] “I have now (April, 1765) almost a certainty of the
      _facturum_ of the fire-engine, having determined the following
      particulars: The quantity of steam produced; the ultimatum of
      the lever engine; the quantity of steam destroyed by the cold
      of its cylinder; the quantity destroyed in mine; and if there
      be not some devil in the hedge, mine ought to raise water to
      44 feet with the same quantity of steam that theirs does to
      32 (supposing my cylinder as thick as theirs), which I think I
      can demonstrate. I can now make a cylinder 2 feet diameter and
      3 feet high, only a 40th of an inch thick, and strong enough
      to resist the atmosphere; _sed tace_. In short, I can think of
      nothing else but this machine.”--Watt to Dr. Lind, quoted in
      Muirhead’s ‘Life of Watt,’ 94–5.

While he was occupied with this difficulty, and striving to overcome it
by the adoption of new expedients, such as leather collars and improved
workmanship, he wrote to a friend, “My old white-iron man is dead;” the
old white-iron man, or tinner, being his leading mechanic. Unhappily,
also, just as he seemed to have got the engine into working order, the
beam broke, and having great difficulty in replacing the damaged part, the
accident threatened, together with the loss of his best workman, to bring
the experiment to an end. But though discouraged by these misadventures,
he was far from defeated, but went on as before, battling down difficulty
inch by inch, and holding good the ground he had won, becoming every
day more strongly convinced that he was in the right track, and that
the important uses of the invention, could he but find time and means to
perfect it, were beyond the reach of doubt.

But how to find the means! Watt himself was a comparatively poor
man; having no money but what he earned by his business of mechanical
instrument making, which he had for some time been neglecting through his
devotion to the construction of his engine. What he wanted was capital,
or the help of a capitalist willing to advance him the necessary funds to
perfect his invention. To give a fair trial to the new apparatus would
involve an expenditure of several thousand pounds; and who on the spot
could be expected to invest so large a sum in trying a machine so entirely
new, depending for its success on physical principles very imperfectly

There was no such help to be found in Glasgow. The tobacco lords, though
rich, took no interest in steam power, and the manufacturing class, though
growing in importance, had full employment for their little capital in
their own concerns.



Dr. Black continued to take a lively interest in Watt’s experiments,
and lent him occasional sums of money from time to time to enable him
to prosecute them to an issue. But the Doctor’s means were too limited
to permit him to do more than supply Watt’s more pressing necessities.
Meanwhile, the debts which the latter had already incurred, small though
they were in amount, hung like a millstone round his neck. Black then
bethought him whether it would not be possible to associate Watt with some
person possessed of sufficient means, and of an active commercial spirit,
who should join as a partner in the risk, and share in the profits of
the enterprise. Such a person, he thought, was Dr. Roebuck, the founder
of the Carron Iron Works, an enterprising man, of undaunted spirit, not
scared by difficulties, nor a niggard of expense when he saw before him
any reasonable prospect of advantage.[81]

    [81] For Memoir of Roebuck, see ‘Industrial Biography,’ p. 133.

Roebuck was at that time engaged in sinking for coal on a large scale near
Boroughstoness, where he experienced considerable difficulty in keeping
the shafts clear of water. The Newcomen engine, which he had erected, was
found comparatively useless, and he was ready to embrace any other scheme
which held out a reasonable prospect of success. Accordingly, when his
friend Dr. Black informed him of an ingenious young mechanic at Glasgow
who had invented a steam-engine, capable of working with increased power,
speed, and economy, Roebuck immediately felt interested, and entered
into correspondence with Watt on the subject. He was at first somewhat
sceptical as to the practicability of the new engine, so different in
its action from that of Newcomen; and he freely stated his doubts to Dr.
Black. He was under the impression that condensation might in some way
be effected in the cylinder without injection; and he urged Watt to try
whether this might not be done. Contrary to his own judgment, Watt tried
a series of experiments with this object, and at last abandoned them,
Roebuck himself admitting his error.

Up to this time Watt and Roebuck had not met, though they carried on a
long correspondence on the subject of the engine. In September, 1765, we
find Roebuck inviting Watt to come over with Dr. Black to Kinneil (where
Roebuck lived), and discuss with him the subject of the engine. Watt
wrote to say that “if his foot allowed him” he would visit Carron on a
certain day, from which we infer that he intended to walk. But the way
was long and the road miry, and Watt could not then leave his instrument
shop, so the visit was postponed. In the mean time Roebuck urged Watt to
press forward his invention with all speed, “whether he pursued it as a
philosopher or as a man of business.”

In the month of November following, Watt forwarded to Roebuck the detailed
drawings of a covered cylinder and piston to be cast at the Carron Works.
Though the cylinder was the best that could be made there, it was very
ill-bored, and was eventually laid aside as useless. The piston-rod was
made at Glasgow, under Watt’s own supervision; and when it was completed
he was afraid to send it on a common cart, lest the workpeople should see
it, which would “occasion speculation.” “I believe,” he wrote in July,
1766, “it would be best to send it in a box.” These precautions would
seem to have been dictated, in some measure, by fear of piracy; and it is
obvious that the necessity of acting by stealth increased the difficulty
of getting the various parts of the proposed engine constructed. Watt’s
greatest obstacle continued to be the clumsiness and inexpertness of his
mechanics. “My principal hinderance in erecting engines,” he wrote to
Roebuck, “is always the smith-work.”

In the mean time it was necessary for Watt to attend to the maintenance
of his family. He found that the steam-engine experiments brought nothing
in, while they were a constant source of expense. Besides, they diverted
him from his retail business, which needed constant attention. It ought
also to be mentioned that his partner having lately died, the business
had been somewhat neglected and had consequently fallen off. At length he
determined to give it up altogether, and begin the business of a surveyor.
He accordingly removed from the shop in Buchanan’s Land to an office on
the east side of King-street, a little south of Prince’s-street. It would
appear that he succeeded in obtaining a fair share of business in his new
vocation. He already possessed a sufficient knowledge of surveying from
the study of the instruments which it had been his business to make; and
application and industry did the rest. His first jobs were in surveying
lands, defining boundaries, and surveyor’s work of the ordinary sort; from
which he gradually proceeded to surveys of a more important character.

It affords some indication of the local estimation in which Watt was
held, that the magistrates of Glasgow should have selected him as a proper
person to survey a canal for the purpose of opening up a new coal-field
in the neighbourhood, and connecting it with the city, with a view to a
cheaper and more abundant supply of fuel. He also surveyed a ditch-canal
for the purpose of connecting the rivers Forth and Clyde, by what was
called the Loch Lomond passage; though the scheme of Brindley and Smeaton
was eventually preferred as the more direct line. Watt came up to London
in 1767, in connexion with the application to Parliament for powers to
construct his canal; and he seems to have been very much disgusted with
the proceedings before “the confounded committee of Parliament,” as he
called it; adding, “I think I shall not long to have anything to do with
the House of Commons again. I never saw so many wrong-headed people on
all sides gathered together.” The fact, however, that they had decided
against him had probably some share in leading him to form this opinion
as to the wrong-headedness of the Parliamentary Committee.

Though interrupted by indispensable business of this sort, Watt proceeded
with the improvement of his steam-engine whenever leisure permitted.
Roebuck’s confidence in its eventual success was such that in 1767 he
undertook to pay debts to the amount of 1000_l._ which Watt had incurred
in prosecuting his project up to that time, and also to provide the means
of prosecuting further experiments, as well as to secure a patent for
the engine. In return for this outlay Roebuck was to have two-thirds of
the property in the invention. Early in 1768 Watt made trial of a new
and larger model, with a cylinder of seven or eight inches diameter. But
the result was not very satisfactory. “By an unforeseen misfortune,” he
wrote Roebuck, “the mercury found its way into the cylinder, and played
the devil with the solder. This throws us back at least three days, and
is very vexatious, especially as it happened in spite of the precautions
I had taken to prevent it.” Roebuck, becoming impatient, urged Watt to
meet him to talk the matter over; and suggested that as Watt could not
come as far as Carron, they should meet at Kilsyth, about fifteen miles
from Glasgow. Watt replied, saying he was too unwell to be able to ride
so far, and that his health was such that the journey would disable him
from doing anything for three or four days after. But he went on with
his experiments, patching up his engine, and endeavouring to get it into
working condition. After about a month’s labour, he at last succeeded to
his heart’s content; and he at once communicated the news to his partner,
intimating his intention of at last paying his long-promised visit to
Roebuck at Kinneil. “I sincerely wish you joy of this successful result,”
he said, “and hope it will make some return for the obligations I owe

[Illustration: KINNEIL HOUSE.]

Kinneil House, to which Watt hastened to pay his visit of congratulation
to Dr. Roebuck, is an old-fashioned building, somewhat resembling an old
French château. It was a former country-seat of the Dukes of Hamilton,
and is finely situated on the shores of the Frith of Forth. The mansion
is rich in classical associations, having been inhabited, since Roebuck’s
time, by Dugald Stewart, who wrote in it his ‘Philosophy of the Human
Mind.’[82] There he was visited by Wilkie, the painter, when in search
of subjects for his pictures; and Dugald Stewart found for him, in an
old farmhouse in the neighbourhood, the cradle-chimney introduced in the
“Penny Wedding.” But none of these names can stand by the side of that
of Watt; and the first thought at Kinneil, of every one who is familiar
with his history, would be of the memorable day when he rode over in
exultation to wish Dr. Roebuck joy of the success of the steam-engine.
His note of triumph was, however, premature. He had yet to suffer many
sickening delays and bitter disappointments; for, though he had contrived
to get his model executed with fair precision, the skill was still wanting
to manufacture the parts of their full size with the requisite unity; and
his present elation was consequently doomed to be succeeded by repeated

    [82] When we visited the place many years ago, Miss Stewart’s
      spinnet still stood in the drawing-room, but there was not a
      tone left in it. Like many other old houses, Kinneil has the
      reputation of being haunted. The ghost is that of a “Lady
      Lilburne,” wife of the Parliamentary General, who is said
      to have thrown herself out of one of the windows during her
      husband’s absence.

The model went so well, however, that it was determined at once to take
out a patent for the engine. The first step was to secure its provisional
protection, and with that object Watt went to Berwick-upon-Tweed, and made
a declaration before a Master in Chancery of the nature of the invention.
In August, 1768, we find him in London on the business of the patent. He
became utterly wearied with the delays interposed by sluggish officialism,
and disgusted with the heavy fees which he was required to pay in order
to protect his invention. He wrote home to his wife at Glasgow in a very
desponding mood. Knowing her husband’s diffidence and modesty, but having
the fullest confidence in his genius, she replied, “I beg that you will
not make yourself uneasy, though things should not succeed to your wish.
If it [the condensing engine] will not do, _something else will; never
despair_.” Watt must have felt cheered by these brave words of his noble
helpmate, and encouraged to go onward cheerfully in hope.

He could not, however, shake off his recurring fits of despondency, and
on his return to Glasgow, we find him occasionally in very low spirits.
Though his head was full of his engine, his heart ached with anxiety
for his family, who could not be maintained on hope, already so often
deferred. The more sanguine Roebuck was elated with the good working of
the model, and impatient to bring the invention into practice. He wrote
Watt in October, 1768, “You are now letting the most active part of your
life insensibly glide away. A day, a moment, ought not to be lost. And
you should not suffer your thoughts to be diverted by any other object,
or even improvement of this, but only the speediest and most effectual
manner of executing an engine of a proper size, according to your present

Watt, however, felt that his invention was capable of many improvements,
and he was never done introducing new expedients. He proceeded, in the
intervals of leisure which he could spare from his surveying business,
to complete the details of the drawings and specification,--making
various trials of pipe-condensers, plate-condensers, and
drum-condensers,--contriving steam-jackets to prevent the waste of heat
and new methods for securing greater tightness of the piston,--inventing
condenser-pumps, oil-pumps, gauge-pumps, exhausting-cylinders,
loading-valves, double cylinders, beams, and cranks. All these
contrivances had to be thought out and tested, elaborately and painfully,
amidst many failures and disappointments; and Dr. Roebuck began to fear
that the fresh expedients which were always starting up in Watt’s brain,
would endlessly protract the consummation of the invention. Watt, on
his part, felt that he could only bring the engine nearer to perfection
by never resting satisfied with imperfect devices, and hence he left no
means untried to overcome the many practical defects in it of which he
was so conscious. Long after, when a noble lord was expressing to him the
admiration with which he regarded his great achievement, Watt replied:
“The public only look at my success, and not at the intermediate failures
and uncouth constructions which have served me as so many steps to climb
to the top of the ladder.”

As to the lethargy from which Roebuck sought to raise Watt, it was merely
the temporary reaction of a mind strained and wearied with long-continued
application to a single subject, and from which it seemed to be
occasionally on the point of breaking down altogether. To his intimate
friends, Watt bemoaned his many failures, his low spirits, his bad health,
and his sleepless nights. He wrote to his friend Dr. Small[83] in January,
1769, “I have many things I could talk to you about--much contrived, and
little executed. How much would good health and spirits be worth to me!”
A month later he wrote, “I am still plagued with headaches, and sometimes

    [83] Dr. Small was born in 1734 at Carmylie, Angus, Scotland, of
      which parish his father was the minister. He had been for some
      time the professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of
      Williamsburg, Virginia, from whence he returned to England and
      settled at Birmingham.

It is nevertheless a remarkable proof of Watt’s indefatigable perseverance
in his favourite pursuit, that at this very time, when apparently sunk in
the depths of gloom, he learnt German for the purpose of getting at the
contents of a curious book, the _Theatrum Machinarum_ of Leupold, which
just then fell into his hands, and contained an account of the machines,
furnaces, methods of working, profits, &c., of the mines in the Upper
Hartz. His instructor in the language was a Swiss dyer,[84] settled in
Glasgow. With the like object of gaining access to untranslated books
in French and Italian--then the great depositories of mechanical and
engineering knowledge--Watt had already mastered both those languages.

    [84] “I have,” he writes, “just now got a curious book, being
      an account of all the machines, furnaces, methods of working,
      profits, &c., of the mines of the Upper Hartz. It is unluckily
      in German, which I understand little of, but am improving in by
      the help of a truly Chymical Swiss Dyer, who is come here to dye
      standing red on linen and cotton, in which he is successful. He
      is according to the custom of philosophers ennuyé to a great
      degree, but seems to be more modest than is usual with them;
      and, what is still more unusual, is attached only to his dyeing,
      though he has a tolerable knowledge of chymestry. He promises
      to make me a coat that will not wet though boiled in water. This
      would be of great use to a hundred people I see just now running
      by, wet to the skin.... I verily believe the drops are an inch
      in diameter! To return to the book--it contains an account of
      all the unsuccessful experiments that have been tried in the
      Hartz, and I assure you it gives me some consolation to see
      the great Liebnitz, the rival of Newton, bungling repeatedly,
      applying wind mills to raise ore while water ran idle past him.
      There is among other machines the fellow of Blackie’s, only
      worked by water, and a full and true account of why it did not
      succeed, which he should read. Their machines in general display
      great ingenuity though ignorance of principles.”--Watt to Small,
      May 28, 1769. Boulton MSS.

In preparing his specification, Watt viewed the subject in all its
bearings. The production of power by steam is a very large one, but Watt
grasped it thoroughly. The insight with which he searched, analysed,
arranged, and even provided for future modifications, was the true insight
of genius. He seems with an almost prophetic eye to have seen all that
steam was capable of accomplishing. This is well illustrated by his early
plan of working steam expansively by cutting it off at about half-stroke,
thereby greatly economising its use;[85] as well as by his proposal to
employ high-pressure steam where cold water could not be used for purposes
of condensation.[86] The careful and elaborate manner in which he studied
the specification, and the consideration which he gave to each of its
various details, are clear from his correspondence with Dr. Small, which
is peculiarly interesting, as showing Watt’s mind actively engaged in
the very process of invention. At length the necessary specification and
drawings were completed and lodged early in 1769,--a year also remarkable
as that in which Arkwright took out the patent for his spinning-machine.

    [85] “I mentioned to you a method of still doubling the effect of
      the steam, and that tolerably easy, by using the power of steam
      rushing into a vacuum, at present lost. This would do a little
      more than double the effect, but it would too much enlarge the
      vessels to use it all. It is peculiarly applicable to wheel
      engines, and may supply the want of a condenser where force
      of steam is only used; for, open one of the steam valves and
      admit steam, until one-fourth of the distance between it and the
      next valve is filled with steam, shut the valve, and the steam
      will continue to expand and to press round the wheel with a
      diminishing power, ending in one-fourth of its first exertion.
      The sum of this series you will find greater than one-half,
      though only one-fourth steam was used. The power will indeed be
      unequal, but this can be remedied by a fly, or in several other
      ways.”--Watt to Small, 28th May, 1769. Boulton MSS.

    [86] He anticipated the use of high-pressure steam, as afterwards
      employed in the locomotive by Trevithick, in the following
      passage:--“I intend,” he said, “in many cases to employ the
      expansive force of steam to press on the piston, or whatever
      is used instead of one, in the same manner as the weight of the
      atmosphere is now employed in common fire-engines. In some cases
      I intend to use both the condenser and this force of steam,
      so that the powers of these engines will as much exceed those
      pressed only by the air, as the expansive power of the steam is
      greater than the weight of the atmosphere. In other cases, when
      plenty of cold water cannot be had, I intend to work the engines
      by the force of steam only, and to discharge it into the air by
      proper outlets after it has done its office.”--Watt to Small,
      March, 1769. Boulton MSS.

In order to master thoroughly the details of the ordinary Newcomen
engine, and to ascertain the extent of its capabilities as well as of its
imperfections, Watt undertook the erection of several engines of this
construction; and during his residence at Kinneil took charge of the
Schoolyard engine near Boroughstoness, in order that he might thereby
acquire a full practical knowledge of its working. Mr. Hart, in his
interesting ‘Reminiscences of James Watt,’ gives the following account:
“My late brother had learned from an old man who had been a workman at Dr.
Roebuck’s coal-works when Mr. Watt was there, that he had erected a small
engine on a pit they called Taylor’s Pit. The workman could not remember
what kind of engine it was, but it was the fastest-going one he ever saw.
From its size, and from its being placed in a small timber-house, the
colliers called it ‘the Box Bed.’ We thought it likely to have been the
first of the patent engines made by Mr. Watt, and took the opportunity
of mentioning this to him at our interview. He said he had erected that
engine, but he did not wish at the time to venture on a patent one until
he had a little more experience.”[87]

    [87] Mr. Hart’s “Reminiscences of James Watt,” in ‘Transactions
      of the Glasgow Archæological Society,’ Part I. 1859.

At length he proceeded to erect the trial engine after his new patent, and
made arrangements to stay at Kinneil until the work was finished. It had
been originally intended to erect it in the little town of Boroughstoness;
but as prying eyes might have there watched his proceedings, and as he
wished to avoid display, being determined, as he said, “not to puff,”
he fixed upon an outhouse behind Kinneil, close by the burn-side in the
glen, where there was abundance of water and secure privacy. The materials
were brought to the place, partly from Watt’s small works at Glasgow,
and partly from Carron, where the cylinder--of eighteen inches diameter
and five feet stroke--had been cast; and a few workmen were placed at his


The process of erection was very tedious, owing to the clumsiness of
the mechanics employed on the job. Watt was occasionally compelled to be
absent on other business, and on his return he usually found the men at a
standstill, not knowing what to do next. As the engine neared completion,
his “anxiety for his approaching doom” kept him from sleep; for his fears,
as he said, were at least equal to his hopes. He was easily cast down by
little obstructions, and especially discouraged by unforeseen expense.
Roebuck, on the contrary, was hopeful and energetic, and often took
occasion to rally the other on his despondency under difficulties, and
his almost painful want of confidence in himself. Roebuck was, doubtless,
of much service to Watt in encouraging him to proceed with his invention,
and also in suggesting some important modifications in the construction
of the engine. It is probable, indeed, that but for his help, Watt could
not have gone on. Robison says, “I remember Mrs. Roebuck remarking one
evening, ‘Jamie is a queer lad, and, without the Doctor, his invention
would have been lost; but Dr. Roebuck won’t let it perish.’”

The new engine, on which Watt had expended so much labour, anxiety, and
ingenuity, was completed in September, 1759, about six months from the
date of its commencement. But its success was far from decided. Watt
himself declared it to be “a clumsy job.” His new arrangement of the
pipe-condenser did not work well; and the cylinder having been badly cast,
was found almost useless. One of his greatest difficulties consisted in
keeping the piston tight. He wrapped it round with cork, oiled rags, tow,
old hat, paper, horse-dung, and other things, but still there were open
spaces left, sufficient to let the air in and the steam out. Watt was
grievously depressed by his want of success, and he had serious thoughts
of giving up the thing altogether. Before abandoning it, however, the
engine was again thoroughly overhauled, many improvements were introduced
in it, and a new trial was made of its powers. But this proved not more
successful than the earlier ones had been. “You cannot conceive,” he
wrote to Small, “how mortified I am with this disappointment. It is a
damned thing for a man to have his all hanging by a single string. If I
had wherewithal to pay the loss, I don’t think I should so much fear a
failure; but I cannot bear the thought of other people becoming losers
by my schemes; and I have the happy disposition of always painting the

Watt was therefore bound to prosecute his project by honour not less than
by interest; and summoning up his courage, he went on with it anew. He
continued to have the same confidence as ever in the principles of his
engine: where it broke down was in workmanship. Could mechanics but be
found capable of accurately executing its several parts, he believed that
its success was certain. But there were no such mechanics then at Carron.

By this time Roebuck was becoming embarrassed with debt, and involved in
various difficulties. The pits were drowned with water, which no existing
machinery could pump out, and ruin threatened to overtake him before
Watt’s engine could come to his help. He had sunk in the coal-mine, not
only his own fortune, but much of the property of his relatives; and
he was so straitened for money that he was unable to defray the cost of
taking out the engine patent according to the terms of his engagement, and
Watt had accordingly to borrow the necessary money from his never-failing
friend, Dr. Black. He was thus adding to his own debts, without any
clearer prospect before him of ultimate relief. No wonder that he should,
after his apparently fruitless labour, express to Small his belief that,
“of all things in life, there is nothing more foolish than inventing.”
The unhappy state of his mind may be further inferred from his lamentation
expressed to the same friend on the 31st of January, 1770. “To-day,” said
he, “I enter the thirty-fifth year of my life, and I think I have hardly
yet done thirty-five pence worth of good in the world; but I cannot help

Notwithstanding the failure of his engine thus far, and the repeated
resolution expressed to Small that he would invent no more, leading, as
inventing did, to only vexation, failure, loss, and increase of headache,
Watt could not control his irrepressible instinct to invent; and whether
the result might be profitable or not, his mind went on as before,
working, scheming, and speculating. Thus, at different times in the course
of his correspondence with Small, who was a man of a like ingenious turn
of mind, we find him communicating various new things, “gimcracks,” as he
termed them, which he had contrived. He was equally ready to contrive a
cure for smoky chimneys, a canal sluice for economising water, a method
of determining “the force necessary to dredge up a cubic foot of mud
under any given depth of water,” and a means of “clearing the observed
distance of the moon from any given star of the effects of refraction and
parallax;” illustrating his views by rapid but graphic designs embodied
in the text of his letters to Small and other correspondents. One of his
minor inventions was a new method of readily measuring distances by means
of a telescope.[88] At the same time he was occupied in making experiments
on kaolin, with the intention of introducing the manufacture of porcelain
in the pottery work on the Broomielaw, in which he was a partner. He was
also concerned with Dr. Black and Dr. Roebuck in pursuing experiments with
the view of decomposing sea-salt by lime, and thereby obtaining alkali
for purposes of commerce. A patent for the process was taken out by Dr.
Roebuck, but eventually proved a failure, like most of his other projects.
We also find Watt inventing a muffling furnace for melting metals, and
sending the drawings to Mr. Boulton at Birmingham for trial. At other
times he was occupied with Chaillet, the Swiss dyer, experimenting on
various chemical substances; corresponding with Dr. Black as to the new
fluoric or spar acid; and at another time making experiments to ascertain
the heats at which water boils at every inch of mercury from vacuo to
air. Later we find him inventing a prismatic micrometer for measuring
distances, which he described in considerable detail in his letters
to Small.[89] He was at the same time busy inventing and constructing
a new surveying quadrant by reflection, and making improvements in
barometers and hygrometers. “I should like to know,” he wrote to Small,
“the principles of _your_ barometer: De Luc’s hygrometer is nonsense.
_Probavi._” Another of his contrivances was his dividing-screw, for
dividing an inch accurately into 1000 equal parts. He states that he found
this screw exceedingly useful, as it saved him much needless compass-work,
and, moreover, enabled him to divide lines into the ordinates of any curve

    [88] The telescope was mounted with two parallel horizontal hairs
      in the focus of the eyeglass, crossed by one perpendicular
      hair. The measuring pole was divided into feet and inches, so
      that, wrote Watt, “if the hairs comprehend one foot at one chain
      distance, they will comprehend ten feet at ten chains,” and so
      on. This invention Watt made in 1770, and used the telescope
      in his various surveys. Eight years later, in 1778, the Society
      of Arts awarded to a Mr. Green a premium for precisely the same

    [89] Letter to Small, 24th Nov. 1772. Watt, however, took no
      steps to bring this invention before the public, and in 1777,
      a similar instrument having been invented by Dr. Maskelyne, was
      presented by him to the Royal Society. Thus Watt also lost the
      credit of this invention.

Such were the multifarious pursuits in which this indefatigable student
and inquirer was engaged; all tending to cultivate his mind and advance
his education, but comparatively unproductive, so far as regarded
pecuniary return. So unfortunate, indeed, had Watt’s speculations proved,
that his friend Dr. Hutton, of Edinburgh, addressed to him a New-year’s
day letter, with the object of dissuading him from proceeding further with
his unprofitable brain-distressing work. “A happy new year to you!” said
Hutton; “may it be fertile to you in lucky events, but no new inventions!”
He went on to say that invention was only for those who live by the
public, and those who from pride choose to leave a legacy to the public.
It was not a thing likely to be well paid for under a system where the
rule was to be the best paid for the work that was easiest done. It was
of no use, however, telling Watt that he must not invent. One might as
well have told Burns that he was not to sing because it would not pay,
or Wilkie that he was not to paint, or Hutton himself that he was not to
think and speculate as to the hidden operations of nature. To invent was
the natural and habitual operation of Watt’s intellect, and he could not
restrain it.

Watt had already been too long occupied with this profitless work: his
money was all gone; he was in debt; and it behoved him to turn to some
other employment by which he might provide for the indispensable wants
of his family. Having now given up the instrument-making business, he
confined himself almost entirely to surveying. Among his earliest surveys
was one of a coal canal from Monkland to Glasgow, in 1769; and the Act
authorising its construction was obtained in the following year. Watt was
invited to superintend the execution of the works, and he had accordingly
to elect whether he would go on with the engine experiments, the event
of which was doubtful, or embrace an honourable and perhaps profitable
employment, attended with much less risk and uncertainty. His necessities
decided him. “I had,” he said, “a wife and children, and saw myself
growing grey without having any settled way of providing for them.” He
accordingly accepted the appointment offered him by the directors of
the canal, and undertook to superintend the construction of the works at
a salary of 200_l._ a year. At the same time he determined not to drop
the engine, but to proceed with it at such leisure moments as he could

The Monkland Canal was a small concern, and Watt had to undertake a
variety of duties. He acted at the same time as surveyor, superintendent,
engineer, and treasurer, assisted only by a clerk. But the appointment
proved useful to him. The salary he earned placed his family above want,
and the out-doors life he was required to lead improved his health and
spirits. After a few months he wrote Dr. Small that he found himself more
strong, more resolute, less lazy, and less confused, than when he began
the occupation. His pecuniary affairs were also more promising. “Supposing
the engine to stand good for itself,” he said, “I am able to pay all my
debts and some little thing more, so that I hope in time to be on a par
with the world.” But there was a dark side to the picture. His occupation
exposed him to fatigue, vexation, hunger, wet, and cold. Then, the quiet
and secluded habits of his early life did not fit him for the out-door
work of the engineer. He was timid and reserved, and had nothing of the
navvy in his nature. He had neither the roughness of tongue nor stiffness
of back to enable him to deal with rude labour gangs. He was nervously
fearful lest his want of practical experience should betray him into
scrapes, and lead to impositions on the part of his workmen. He hated
higgling, and declared that he would rather “face a loaded cannon than
settle an account or make a bargain.” He had been “cheated,” he said, “by
undertakers, and was unlucky enough to know it.”

Watt continued to act as engineer for the Monkland Canal Company for about
a year and a half,[90] during which he was employed in other engineering
works. Among these was a survey of the river Clyde, with a view to the
improvement of the navigation. Watt sent in his report; but no steps were
taken to carry out his suggestions until several years later, when the
beginning was made of a series of improvements, which have resulted in the
conversion of the Clyde from a pleasant trouting and salmon stream into
one of the busiest navigable highways in the world.[91]

    [90] The Company afterwards came to grief. The original
      subscription list was not filled up, and the stagnation in trade
      which took place at the outbreak of the American war, brought
      the works to a standstill. In 1782 the concern was sold to the
      Messrs. Stirling, who eventually became the sole proprietors
      and finished the undertaking.

    [91] There was then a ford at Dumbuck, a few miles below Glasgow,
      which prevented boats of more than ten tons burden ascending
      to the Broomielaw. This was shortly after removed by the Clyde
      Trust, who have expended 3,564,397_l._ in improvement of the
      navigation between 1770 and 1863, the revenue collected during
      the same time in dues having been 2,288,000_l._ Vessels drawing
      21 feet can now ascend to the Broomielaw; and when the present
      improvements are completed the depth at high water is expected
      to be upwards of 24 feet.

Among Watt’s other labours about the same period may be mentioned his
survey of a canal between Perth and Cupar Angus, through Strathmore; of
the Crinan Canal, afterwards carried out by Rennie; and other projects in
the western highlands. The Strathmore Canal survey was conducted at the
instance of the Commissioners of Forfeited Estates. It was forty miles
long, through a very rough country. Watt set out to make it in September,
1770, and was accompanied by snowstorms through almost the entire
survey. He suffered severely from the cold: the winds swept down from
the Grampians with fury and chilled him to the bone. The making of this
survey occupied him forty-three days, and the remuneration he received
for it was only eighty pounds, which included expenses. The small pay of
engineers at that time may be further illustrated by the fee paid him in
the same year for supplying the magistrates of Hamilton with a design for
the proposed new bridge over the Clyde at that town. It was originally
intended to employ Mr. Smeaton; but as his charge was ten pounds, which
was thought too high, Watt was employed in his stead. The Burgh minutes
record that, after the Act had been obtained in 1770, Baillie Naismith
was appointed to proceed to Glasgow to see Mr. Watt on the subject of a
design, and his charge being only 7_l._ 7_s._, he was requested to supply
it accordingly. “I have lately,” wrote Watt to Small, “made a plan and
estimate of a bridge over our river Clyde, eight miles above this: it is
to be of five arches and 220 feet waterway, founded upon piles on a muddy
bottom.”[92] The bridge, after Watt’s plan, was begun in 1771, but it was
not finished until 1780.[93]

    [92] Watt to Small, 21st Dec. 1770. Boulton MSS.

    [93] The bridge was partially destroyed by a flood in 1806, when
      one of the central piers was thrown down. Two of the arches
      fell, and were rebuilt, but the others stand as originally

[Illustration: HAMILTON BRIDGE.]

About the same time Watt prepared plans of docks and piers at Port
Glasgow, and of a new harbour at Ayr. The Port Glasgow works were carried
out, but those at Ayr were postponed. When Rennie came to examine the
design for the improvement of the Ayr navigation, of which the new
harbour formed part, he took objections to it, principally because of
the parallelism of the piers, and another plan was eventually adopted.
His principal engineering job, and the last of the kind on which Watt was
engaged in Scotland, was a survey of the Caledonian Canal, long afterwards
carried out by Telford. The survey was made in the autumn of 1773, through
a country without roads. “An incessant rain,” said he, “kept me for three
days as wet as water could make me; I could hardly preserve my journal

In the midst of this dreary work, Watt was summoned to Glasgow by the
intelligence which reached him of the illness of his wife; and when
he reached home he found that she had died in childbed.[94] Of all the
heavy blows he had suffered, this he felt to be the worst. His wife had
struggled with him through poverty; she had often cheered his fainting
spirit when borne down by doubt, perplexity, and disappointment; and now
she was gone, without being able to share in his good fortune as she had
done in his adversity. For some time after, when about to enter his humble
dwelling, he would pause on the threshold, unable to summon courage to
enter the room where he was never more to meet “the comfort of his life.”
“Yet this misfortune,” he wrote to Small, “might have fallen upon me when
I had less ability to bear it, and my poor children might have been left
suppliants to the mercy of the wide world.”

    [94] The child was stillborn. Of four other children who were
      the fruit of this marriage, two died young. A son and daughter
      survived; the son, James, succeeded his father, and died
      unmarried, at Aston Hall, near Birmingham, in 1848. The daughter
      married Mr. Miller, of Glasgow, whose grandson, the present J.
      W. Gibson Watt, Esq., succeeded to the Watt property.

Watt tried to forget his sorrow, as was his custom, in increased
application to work, though the recovery of the elasticity of his mind was
in a measure beyond the power of his will. There were, at that time, very
few bright spots in his life. A combination of unfortunate circumstances
threatened to overwhelm him. No further progress had yet been made with
his steam-engine, which he almost cursed as the cause of his misfortunes.
Dr. Roebuck’s embarrassments had reached their climax. He had fought
against the water which drowned his coal until he could fight no more,
and he was at last delivered into the hands of his creditors a ruined man.
“My heart bleeds for him,” said Watt, “but I can do nothing to help him.
I have stuck by him, indeed, till I have hurt myself.”

But the darkest hour is nearest the dawn. Watt had passed through a long
night, and a gleam of sunshine at last beamed upon him. Matthew Boulton,
of Birmingham, was at length persuaded to take up the invention on
which Watt had expended so many of the best years of his life, and the
turning-point in Watt’s fortunes had arrived.

[Illustration: PORT GLASGOW.

[By R. P. Leitch.]]

[Illustration: _Mathew Boulton, F.R.S._

_Engraved by W. Hall, after the portrait by Sir W. Beechy, R.A._

_Published by John Murray Albemarle Street. 1865._]


[Illustration: BIRMINGHAM.

[By Percival Skelton.]]



From an early period, Birmingham has been one of the principal centres
of mechanical industry in England. The neighbourhood abounds in coal
and iron, and has long been famous for the skill of its artisans. Swords
were forged there in the time of the Ancient Britons. The first guns made
in England bore the Birmingham mark. In 1538 Leland found “many smiths
in the town that use to make knives and all manner of cutting tools,
and many loriners that make bittes, and a great many nailers.” About a
century later Camden described the place as “full of inhabitants, and
resounding with hammers and anvils, for the most part of them smiths.”
As the skill of the Birmingham artisans increased, they gradually gave
up the commoner kinds of smithery, and devoted themselves to ornamental
metal-work, in brass, steel, and iron. They became celebrated for their
manufacture of buckles, buttons, and various fancy articles; and they
turned out such abundance of toys that towards the close of last century
Burke characterised Birmingham as “the great toy-shop of Europe.”

The ancient industry of Birmingham was of a staid and steady character,
in keeping with the age. Each manufacturer kept within the warmth of his
own forge. He did not go in search of orders, but waited for the orders to
come to him. Ironmongers brought their money in their saddle-bags, took
away the goods in exchange, or saw them packed ready for the next waggon
before they left. Notwithstanding this quiet way of doing business, many
comfortable fortunes were made in the place; the manufacturers, like their
buttons, moving off so soon as they had received the stamp and the gilt.
Hutton, the Birmingham bookseller, says he knew men who left the town in
chariots who had first approached it on foot. Hutton himself entered the
town a poor boy, and lived to write its history, and make a fortune by
his industry.

Until towards the end of last century the town was not very easy of
approach from any direction. The roads leading to it had become worn by
the traffic of many generations. The hoofs of the pack-horses, helped
by the rains, had deepened the tracks in the sandy soil, until in many
places they were twelve or fourteen feet deep, so that it was said of
travellers that they approached the town by sap. One of these old hollow
roads, still called Holloway-head, though now filled up, was so deep that
a waggon-load of hay might pass along it without being seen. There was
no direct communication between Birmingham and London until about the
middle of the century. Before then, the Great Road from London to Chester
passed it four miles off, and the Birmingham manufacturer, when sending
wares to London, had to forward his package to Castle Bromwich, there to
await the approach of the packhorse train or the stage-waggon journeying
south. The Birmingham men, however, began to wake up, and in 1747 a coach
was advertised to run to London in two days “if the roads permit.” Twenty
years later a stage-waggon was put on, and the communication by coach
became gradually improved.

When Hutton entered Birmingham in 1740, he was struck by the activity of
the place and the vivacity of the inhabitants, which expressed itself
in their looks as he passed them in the streets. “I had,” he says,
“been among dreamers, but now I saw men awake. Their very step showed
alacrity. Every man seemed to know and to prosecute his own affairs.”
The Birmingham men were indeed as alert as they looked--steady workers
and clever mechanics--men who struck hard on the anvil. The artisans of
the place had the advantage of a long training in mechanical skill. It
had been bred in their bone, and descended to them from their fathers as
an inheritance.[95] In no town in England were there then to be found so
many mechanics capable of executing entirely new work; nor, indeed, has
the ability yet departed from them, the Birmingham artisans maintaining
their individual superiority in intelligent execution of skilled work to
the present day. We are informed that inventors of new machines, foreign
as well as English, are still in the practice of resorting to them for
the purpose of getting their inventions embodied in the best forms, with
greater chances of success than in any other town in England.

    [95] There seems reason to believe that the capacity for
      skilled industry is to a certain extent transmissible; and
      that the special aptitude for mechanics which characterises
      the population of certain districts, is in a great measure
      the result of centuries of experience, transmitted from one
      generation to another. Mr. Morell takes the same view: “We
      have every reason to believe,” he says, “that the power of
      specialised instincts is transmitted, and when the circumstances
      favour it, goes on increasing from age to age in intensity,
      and in a particular adaptation to the purposes demanded. All
      confirmed habits which become a part of the animal nature, seem
      to be imparted by hereditary descent; and thus what _seems_ to
      be an original instinct may, after all, be but the accumulated
      growth and experience of many generations.”

About the middle of last century the two Boultons, father and son, were
recognised as among the most enterprising and prosperous of Birmingham
manufacturers. The father of the elder Matthew Boulton was John Boulton
of Northamptonshire, in which county Boultons or Boltons have been
settled for a long period, and where there are records of many clergymen
of the name. About the end of the seventeenth century, this John Boulton
settled at Lichfield, where he married Elizabeth, heir of Matthew Dyott of
Stitchbrooke, by whom he obtained considerable property. His means must,
however, have become reduced; in consequence of which his son Matthew was
sent to Birmingham to enter upon a career of business, and make his own
way in the world. He became established in the place as a silver stamper
and piecer, to which he added other branches of manufacture, which his
son Matthew afterwards largely extended.

Matthew Boulton the younger was born at Birmingham on the 3rd September,
1728. Little is known of his early life, beyond that he was a bright,
clever boy, and a general favourite with his companions. He received his
principal education at a private academy at Deritend, kept by the Rev. Mr.
Ansted, under whom he acquired the rudiments of a good ordinary English
education. Though he left school early for the purpose of following his
father’s business, he nevertheless continued the work of self-instruction,
and afterwards acquired considerable knowledge of Latin and French,
as well as of drawing and mathematics. But his chief pleasure was in
pursuing the study of chemistry and mechanics, in which, as we shall
shortly find, he became thoroughly accomplished. Long after he joined his
father in business, he delighted to revert to his classical favourites.
From an entry in his private memorandum-book of expenses at the age of
about thirty, though then very economical in other respects, we find him
expending considerable sums in experiments on electricity, and on one
occasion laying out a guinea on a copy of Virgil, from which it appears
that trade had not spoilt his taste for either science or letters.

Young Boulton appears to have engaged in business with much spirit. By the
time he was seventeen he had introduced several important improvements in
the manufacture of buttons, watch-chains, and other trinkets; and he had
invented the inlaid steel buckles which shortly after became the fashion.
These buckles were exported in large quantities to France, from whence
they were brought back to England and sold as the most recent productions
of French ingenuity. The elder Boulton, having every confidence in his
son’s discretion and judgment, adopted him as a partner so soon as he came
of age, and from that time forward he took almost the entire management of
the concern. Although in his letters he signed “for father and self,” he
always spoke in the first person of matters connected with the business.
Thus, in 1757, we find him writing to Timothy Holles, London, as to the
prices of “coat-link and vest buttons,” intimating that to lower them
would be to beat down price and quality until it became no business at
all; “yet,” said he, “as I have put myself to greater expense than anybody
else in erecting the best conveniences and the completest tools for the
purpose, I am not willing that any interlopers should run away with it.”
We find him at the same time carrying on a correspondence with Benjamin
Huntsman, of Sheffield, the celebrated inventor of cast-steel.[96] On
the 19th January, 1757, he sends Huntsman “a parcel of goods of the
newest patterns,” and at the same time orders a quantity of Huntsman’s
steel. “When thou hast some of a proper size and quality for me, and an
opportunity of sending it, thou may’st, but I should be glad to have it
a little tougher than the last.” He concludes--“I hope thy Philosophic
Spirit still laboureth within thee, and may it soon bring forth Fruit
useful to mankind, but more particularly to thyself, is the sincere wish
of Thy Obliged Friend.” With a view to economy, Boulton in course of time
erected a steel-house of his own for the purpose of making steel; and he
frequently used it to convert the cuttings and scraps of the small iron
wares which he manufactured, into ordinary steel, afterwards melting and
converting it into cast-steel in the usual way.

    [96] For Memoir of Huntsman, see ‘Industrial Biography,’ 102–110.

From the earliest glimpses we can get of Boulton as a man of business, it
would appear to have been his aim to be at the top of whatsoever branch
of manufacture he undertook. He endeavoured to produce the best possible
articles in regard of design, material, and workmanship. Taste was then
at a low ebb, and “Brummagem” had become a byword for everything that was
gaudy, vulgar, and meretricious. Boulton endeavoured to get rid of this
reproach, and aimed at raising the standard of taste in manufacture to the
highest point. With this object, he employed the best artists to design
his articles, and the cleverest artisans to manufacture them. Apart from
the question of elevating the popular taste, there can be no doubt that
this was good policy on his part, for it served to direct public attention
to the superior and honest quality of the articles produced by his firm,
and eventually brought him a large accession of business.

In 1759, Boulton’s father died, bequeathing to him the considerable
property which he had accumulated by his business. The year following,
when thirty-two years of age, Matthew married Anne, the daughter of Luke
Robinson, Esq., of Lichfield. The lady was a distant relation of his own;
the Dyotts of Stitchbrooke, whose heir his grandfather had married, being
nearly related to the Babingtons of Curborough, from whom Miss Robinson
was lineally descended--Luke Robinson having married the daughter and
co-heir of John Babington of Curborough and Patkington. Considerable
opposition was offered to the marriage by the lady’s friends, on account
of Matthew Boulton’s occupation; but he pressed his suit, and with good
looks and a handsome presence to back him, he eventually succeeded
in winning the heart and hand of Anne Robinson. He was now, indeed,
in a position to have retired from business altogether. But a life of
inactivity had no charms for him. He liked to mix with men in the affairs
of active life, and to take his full share in the world’s business.
Indeed, he hated ease and idleness, and found his greatest pleasure in
constant occupation.

Instead, therefore, of retiring from trade, he determined to engage in it
more extensively. He entertained the ambition of founding a manufactory
that should be the first of its kind, and serve as a model for the
manufacturers of his neighbourhood. His premises on Snow-hill,[97]
Birmingham, having become too small for his purpose, he looked about
him for a suitable spot on which to erect more commodious workshops;
and he was shortly attracted by the facilities presented by the property
afterwards so extensively known as the famous Soho.

    [97] While on Snow-hill, Mr. Boulton’s business was principally
      confined to the making of buttons, shoe-buckles, articles in
      steel, and various kinds of trinkets. His designation was that
      of “toymaker,” as is shown by the following document copied
      from the original:--“Received of Matthew Boulton, toymaker,
      Snow-hill, three shillings and sixpence, for which sum I
      solemnly engage, if he should be chosen by lot to serve in
      the militia for this parish, at the first meeting for that
      purpose, to procure a substitute that shall be approved of.
      Birmingham, January 11, 1762, Henry Brookes, Sergt.” The
      Birmingham toymaker was, however, often a man doing a large
      business, producing articles of utility as well as ornament.
      Mr. Osler, the Birmingham manufacturer of glass beads and other
      toys, when examined before a Committee of the House of Commons
      many years since, astonished the members by informing them that
      trifling though dolls’ eyes might appear to be as an article of
      manufacture, he had once obtained an order for 500_l._ worth of
      the article. “Eighteen years ago,” said he, “on my first going
      to London, a respectable-looking man in the city asked me if I
      could supply him with dolls’ eyes; and I was foolish enough to
      feel half offended; I thought it derogatory to my dignity as a
      manufacturer to make dolls’ eyes. He took me into a room quite
      as wide, and perhaps twice the length of this, and we had just
      room to walk between the stacks, from the floor to the ceiling,
      of parts of dolls. He said, ‘These are only the legs and the
      arms; the trunks are below.’ But I saw enough to convince
      me, that he wanted a great many eyes.... He ordered various
      quantities, and of various sizes and qualities. On returning
      to the Tavistock Hotel, I found that the order amounted to
      upwards of 500_l._... Calculating on every child in this country
      not using a doll till two years old, and throwing it aside at
      seven, and having a new one annually, I satisfied myself that
      the eyes alone would produce a circulation of a great many
      thousand pounds. I mention this merely to show the importance
      of trifles.”--Babbage, ‘Economy of Machinery and Manufactures,’

Soho is about two miles north of Birmingham, on the Wolverhampton road.
It is not in the parish of Birmingham, nor in the county of Warwick, but
just over the border, in the county of Stafford. Down to the middle of
last century the ground on which it stands was a barren heath, used only
as a rabbit-warren. The sole dwelling on it was the warrener’s hut, which
stood near the summit of the hill, on the spot afterwards occupied by
Soho House; and the warrener’s well is still to be found in one of the
cellars of the mansion. In 1756, Mr. Edward Ruston took a lease of the
ground for ninety-nine years from Mr. Wyerley, the lord of the manor,
with liberty to make a cut about half a mile in length for the purpose
of turning the waters of Hockley Brook into a pool under the brow of the
hill. The head of water thus formed was used to drive a feeble mill below,
which Mr. Ruston had established for laminating metals. He also built
a small dwelling-house about 150 yards from the mill, and expended upon
the place a sum of about 1000_l._ in all. When Mr. Boulton was satisfied
that the place would suit his purpose, he entered into arrangements with
Mr. Ruston for the purchase of his lease,[98] on the completion of which
he proceeded to rebuild the mill on a large scale, and in course of time
removed thither the whole of his tools, machinery, and workmen. The new
manufactory, when finished, consisted of a series of roomy workshops
conveniently connected with each other, and capable of accommodating
upwards of a thousand workmen. The building and stocking of the premises
cost upwards of 20,000_l._

    [98] Mr. Boulton afterwards purchased the fee simple of the
      property, together with much of the adjoining land. The nature
      of his tenure caused him to take a lively interest in the
      question of common lands enclosure, and at a much later period
      (17th April, 1790) we find him writing to the Right Hon. Lord
      Hawkesbury as follows:--“The argument of robbing the poor [by
      enclosures of wastes] is fallacious. They have no legal title
      to the common land; and the more of it that is cultivated, the
      more work and the more bread there will be for them. I speak
      from experience; for I founded my manufactory upon one of the
      most barren commons in England, where there existed but a few
      miserable huts filled with idle beggarly people, who by the
      help of the common land and a little thieving made shift to
      live without working. The scene is now entirely changed. I have
      employed a thousand men, women, and children, in my aforesaid
      manufactory for nearly thirty years past. The Lord of the Manor
      hath exterminated these very poor cottages, and hundreds of
      clean comfortable cheerful houses are found erected in their
      place. Thus the inhabitants of the parish have been trebled
      without at all increasing the poor levies. I am more confirmed
      in this view when I turn my eyes to a neighbouring parish
      (Sutton Colefield), where there are 10,000 acres of common land
      uncultivated, and yet the poor rates are very high. Let this
      land be divided, enclosed, cultivated, and rendered saleable to
      active, industrious, and spirited men; and the poor will then
      have plenty of work, and the next generation of them will be
      fully reconciled to earning their bread instead of begging for
      it.”--Boulton MSS.

[Illustration: SOHO MANUFACTORY.]

Before removing to Soho, Mr. Boulton took into partnership Mr. John
Fothergill, with the object of more vigorously extending his business
operations. Mr. Fothergill possessed a very limited capital, but he was a
man of good character and active habits of business, with a considerable
knowledge of foreign markets. On the occasion of his entering the concern,
stock was taken of the warehouse on Snow Hill; and some idea of the extent
of Boulton’s business at the time may be formed from the fact, that his
manager, Mr. Zaccheus Walker, assisted by Farquharson, Nuttall, Frogatt,
and half-a-dozen labourers, were occupied during eight days in weighing
metals, counting goods, and preparing an inventory of the effects and
stock in trade. The partnership commenced at midsummer, 1762, and shortly
after the principal manufactory was removed to Soho.

Steps were immediately taken to open up new connexions and agencies at
home and abroad; and a large business was shortly established with many
of the principal towns and cities of Europe, in filagree and inlaid work,
livery and other buttons, buckles, clasps, watch-chains, and various
kinds of ornamental metal wares. The firm shortly added the manufacture
of silver plate and plated goods to their other branches,[99] and turned
out large quantities of candlesticks, urns, brackets, and various articles
in ormolu. The books of the firm indicate the costly nature of their
productions, 500 ounces of silver being given out at a time, besides
considerable quantities of gold and platina for purposes of fabrication.
Boulton himself attended to the organization and management of the works
and to the extension of the trade at home, while Fothergill devoted
himself to establishing and superintending the foreign agencies.

    [99] Mr. Keir, in a MS. memoir of Mr. Boulton now before us,
      says he was the first to introduce the silver plate business at
      Birmingham, and to make complete services in solid silver. But
      the business was not profitable, in consequence of the great
      value of the material, the loss of interest upon which was not
      compensated by the additional price put upon it for workmanship.
      One good consequence of the silver plate business, however,
      was the establishment of an assay office in Birmingham, the
      necessary Act for which was obtained at Mr. Boulton’s expense,
      and proved of much advantage to the town.

From the first, Boulton aimed at establishing a character for the
excellence of his productions. They must not only be honest in
workmanship, but tasteful in design. He determined, so far as in him
lay, to get rid of the “Brummagem” reproach. Thus we find him writing to
his partner from London:--“The prejudice that Birmingham hath so justly
established against itself makes every fault conspicuous in all articles
that have the least pretensions to taste. How can I expect the public to
countenance rubbish from Soho, while they can procure sound and perfect
work from any other quarter?”

He frequently went to town for the express purpose of reading and making
drawings of rare works in metal in the British Museum, sending the
results down to Soho. When rare objects of art were offered for sale, he
endeavoured to secure them. “I bid five guineas,” he wrote his partner on
one occasion, “for the Duke of Marlborough’s great blue vase, but it sold
for ten.... I bought two bronzed figures, which are sent herewith.” He
borrowed antique candlesticks, vases, and articles in metal from the Queen
and from various members of the nobility. “I wish Mr. Eginton,” he wrote,
“would take good casts from the Hercules and the Hydra, and then let it
be well gilt and returned with the seven vases; for ’tis the Queen’s. I
perceive we shall want many such figures, and therefore we should omit
no opportunity of taking good casts.” The Duke of Northumberland lent
Boulton many of his most highly-prized articles for imitation by his
workmen. Among his other liberal helpers in the same way, we find the Duke
of Richmond, Lord Shelburne, and the Earl of Dartmouth. The Duke gave
him an introduction to Horace Walpole, for the purpose of enabling him
to visit and examine the art treasures of Strawberry Hill. “The vases,”
said he, in writing to Boulton, “are, in my opinion, better worth your
seeing than anything in England, and I wish you would have exact drawings
of them taken, as I may very possibly like to have them copied by you.”
Lord Shelburne’s opinion of Boulton may be gathered from his letter to
Mr. Adams, the architect, in which he said:--“Mr. Boulton is the most
enterprising man in different ways in Birmingham, and is very desirous
of cultivating Mr. Adams’s taste in his productions, and has bought his
Dioclesian by Lord Shelburne’s advice.”

Boulton, however, did not confine himself to England; he searched
the Continent over for the best specimens of handicraft as models for
imitation; and when he found them he strove to equal, if not to excel them
in style and quality. He sent his agent, Mr. Wendler, on a special mission
of this sort, to Venice, Rome, and other Italian cities, to purchase
for him the best specimens of metal-work, and obtain for him designs of
various ornaments--vases, cameos, intaglios, and statuary. On one occasion
we find Wendler sending him 456 prints, Boulton acknowledging that they
will prove exceedingly useful for the purposes of his manufacture. At the
same time, Fothergill was travelling through France and Germany with a
like object, while he was also establishing new connexions with a view to
extended trade.[100]

    [100] “If, in the course of your future travelling,” he wrote
      Mr. Wendler (July, 1767), “you can pick up for me any metallic
      ores or fossil substances, or any other curious natural
      productions, I should be much obliged to you, as I am fond of
      all those things that have a tendency to improve my knowledge in
      mechanical arts, in which my manufactory will every year become
      more and more general, and therefore wish to know the taste, the
      fashions, the toys, both useful and ornamental, the implements,
      vessels, &c., that prevail in all the different parts of Europe,
      as I should be glad to work for all Europe in all things that
      they may have occasion for--gold, silver, copper, plated, gilt,
      pinchbeck, steel, platina, tortoiseshell, or anything else that
      may become an article of general demand. I have lately begun to
      make snuff-boxes, instrument-cases, tooth-picks, &c., in metal,
      gilt, and in tortoiseshell inlaid, likewise gilt and pinchbeck
      watch-chains. We are now being completely fixed at Soho, and
      when Mr. Fothergill returns (which will not be for six months),
      I shall then have more time to attend to improvements than I
      have at present.”--Boulton MSS.

While Boulton was ambitious of reaching the highest excellence in his own
line of business, he did not confine himself to that, but was feeling his
way in various directions outside of it. Thus to his friend Wedgwood he
wrote on one occasion, that he admired his vases so much that he “almost
wished to be a potter.” At one time, indeed, he had serious thoughts of
beginning the fictile manufacture; but he rested satisfied with mounting
in metal the vases which Wedgwood made. “The mounting of vases,” he wrote,
“is a large field for fancy, in which I shall indulge, as I perceive it
possible to convert even a very ugly vessel into a beautiful vase.”[101]

    [101] Boulton to Wedgwood, January, 1769.--Wedgwood was one of
      his most intimate friends; the two alike aiming at excellence in
      their respective branches of production. Their kindred efforts
      seem to have excited the ire of some satirist, whose effusion
      against them in the ‘Public Ledger’ is thus referred to in the
      postscript of a letter from Wedgwood to Boulton, dated 19th
      February, 1771:--“If you take in the ‘Public Ledger’ you’ll see
      that Mr. Antipuffado has done me the honour to rank me with the
      most _stupendous geniuses_ of the age, and has really _cut me
      up very cleanly_. He talks, too, that he should not wonder if
      some surprising genius at Birmingham should be tempted to make
      _Roman medals_ and _tenpenny nails_, or _Corinthian knives_ and
      _daggers_, and style himself Roman medal and Etruscan tenpenny
      nail-maker to the Empress of Abyssinia. But see the paper: I
      believe it is the first week in February, and is one of the
      better sort of this class.”--Boulton MSS.

Another branch of business that he sought to establish was the manufacture
of clocks. It was one of his leading ideas, that articles in common
use might be made much better and cheaper if manufactured on a large
scale with the help of the best machinery; and he thought this might be
successfully done in the making of clocks and timepieces. The necessary
machinery was erected accordingly, and the new branch of business was
started. Some of the timepieces were of an entirely novel arrangement.
One of them, invented by Dr. Small, contained but a single wheel, and was
considered a piece of very ingenious construction. Boulton also sought
to rival the French makers of ornamental timepieces, by whom the English
markets were then almost entirely supplied; and some of the articles of
this sort turned out by him were of great beauty. One of his most ardent
encouragers and admirers, the Hon. Mrs. Montagu, wrote to him,--“I take
greater pleasure in our victories over the French in the contention of
arts than of arms. The achievements of Soho, instead of making widows
and orphans, make marriages and christenings. Your noble industry, while
elevating the public taste, provides new occupations for the poor, and
enables them to bring up their families in comfort. Go on, then, sir,
to triumph over the French in taste, and to embellish your country with
useful inventions and elegant productions.”

Boulton’s efforts to improve the industrial arts did not, however, always
meet with such glowing eulogy as this. Two of his most highly finished
astronomical clocks could not find purchasers at his London sale; on
which he wrote to his wife at Soho, “I find philosophy at a very low ebb
in London, and I have therefore brought back my two fine clocks, which I
will send to a market where common sense is not out of fashion. If I had
made the clocks play jigs upon bells, and a dancing bear keeping time, or
if I had made a horse-race upon their faces, I believe they would have
had better bidders. I shall therefore bring them back to Soho, and some
time this summer will send them to the Empress of Russia, who, I believe,
would be glad of them.”[102] During the same visit to London, he was more
successful with the king and queen, who warmly patronised his productions.
“The king,” he wrote to his wife, “hath bought a pair of cassolets, a
Titus, a Venus clock, and some other things, and inquired this morning how
yesterday’s sale went. I shall see him again, I believe. I was with them,
the queen and all the children, between two and three hours. There were,
likewise, many of the nobility present. Never was man so much complimented
as I have been; but I find that compliments don’t make fat nor fill the
pocket. The queen showed me her last child, which is a beauty, but none
of ’em are equal to the General of Soho or the fair Maid of the Mill.[103]
God bless them both, and kiss them for me.”

    [102] The clocks, with several other articles, were sent out to
      Russia, and submitted to the Empress through the kindness of
      Earl Cathcart. His lordship, in communicating the result to
      Mr. Boulton, said--“I have the pleasure to inform you that her
      Imperial Majesty not only bought them all, last week, but did
      me the honour to tell me that she was extremely pleased with
      them, and thought them superior in every respect to the French,
      as well as cheaper, which entitled them in all lights to a

In another letter he described a subsequent visit to the palace. “I am to
wait upon their majesties again so soon as our Tripod Tea-kitchen arrives,
and again upon some other business. The queen, I think, is much improved
in her person, and she now speaks English like an English lady. She
draws very finely, is a great musician, and works with her needle better
than Mrs. Betty. However, without joke, she is extremely sensible, very
affable, and a great patroness of English manufactures. Of this she gave
me a particular instance; for, after the king and she had talked to me for
nearly three hours, they withdrew, and then the queen sent for me into
her boudoir, showed me her chimneypiece, and asked me how many vases it
would take to furnish it; ‘for,’ said she, ‘all that china shall be taken
away.’ She also desired that I would fetch her the two finest steel chains
I could make. All this she did of her own accord, without the presence of
the king, which I could not help putting a kind construction upon.”[104]

    [103] Pet names of his two children, Matthew Robinson and Anne

    [104] These letters are without date, but we infer that they were
      written in the summer of 1767.

Thus stimulated by royal and noble patronage, Boulton exerted himself
to the utmost to produce articles of the highest excellence. Like his
friend Wedgwood, he employed Flaxman and other London artists to design
his choicer goods; but he had many foreign designers and skilled workmen,
French and Italian, in his regular employment. He attracted these men
by liberal wages, and kept them attached to him by kind and generous
treatment. On one occasion we find the Duke of Richmond applying to him to
recommend a first-class artist to execute some special work in metal for
him. Boulton replies that he can strongly recommend one of his own men,
an honest, steady workman, an excellent metal turner. “He hath made for
me some exceeding good achromatic telescopes [another branch of Boulton’s
business].... I give him two guineas a week and a house to live in. He is
a Frenchman, and formerly worked with the famous M. Germain; he afterwards
worked for the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, and he hath worked upwards
of two years for me.”[105]

Before many years had passed, Soho was spoken of with pride, as one
of the best schools of skilled industry in England. Its fame extended
abroad as well as at home, and when distinguished foreigners came into
England, they usually visited Soho as one of the national sights. When
the manufactory was complete[106] and in full work, Boulton removed from
his house on Snow-hill to the mansion of Soho, which he had by this time
considerably enlarged and improved. There he continued to live until the
close of his life, maintaining a splendid hospitality. Men of all nations,
and of all classes and opinions, were received there by turns,--princes,
philosophers, artists, authors, merchants, and poets. In August, 1767,
while executing the two chains for the queen, we find him writing to
his London agent as his excuse for a day’s delay in forwarding it: “I
had lords and ladies to wait on yesterday; I have French and Spaniards
to-day; and to-morrow I shall have Germans, Russians, and Norwegians.”
For many years the visitors at Soho House were so numerous and arrived in
such constant succession, that it more resembled an hotel than a private

    [105] Boulton to the Duke of Richmond, April 8, 1770. The Duke
      was engaged at the time in preparing a set of machines for
      making the various experiments in Natural Philosophy described
      in S’Gravande’s book. The Duke was himself a good turner and
      worker in metal.

    [106] The manufactory was complete so far as regarded the hardware
      manufacture. But additions were constantly being made to it;
      and, as other branches of industry were added, it became more
      than doubled in extent and accommodation.

[Illustration: SOHO HOUSE.]

The rapid extension of the Soho business necessarily led to the increase
of the capital invested in it. Boulton had to find large sums of money
for increased stock, plant, and credits. He raised 3000_l._ on his wife’s
estate; he borrowed 5000_l._ from his friend Baumgarten; and he sold
considerable portions of the property left him by his father, by which
means he was enabled considerably to extend his operations. There were
envious busybodies about who circulated rumours to his discredit, and
set the report on foot, that to carry on a business on so large a scale
would require a capital of 80,000_l._ “Their evil speaking,” said he to
a correspondent, “will avail but little, as our house is founded on so
firm a rock that envy and malice will not be able to shake it; and I am
determined to spare neither pains nor money to establish such a house
as will acquire both honour and wealth.” The rapid strides he was making
may be inferred from the statement made to the same correspondent, which
showed that the gross returns of the firm, which were 7000_l._ in 1763,
had advanced to 30,000_l._ in 1767, with orders still upon the increase.

Though he had a keen eye for business, Boulton regarded character
more than profit. He would have no connexion with any transaction of a
discreditable kind. Orders were sent to him from France for base money,
but he spurned them with indignation. “I will do anything,” he wrote to
M. Motteaux, his Paris agent, “short of being common informer against
particular persons, to stop the malpractices of the Birmingham coiners.”
He declared he was as ready to do business on reasonable terms as any
other person, but he would not undersell; “for,” said he, “to run down
prices would be to run down quality, which could only have the effect of
undermining confidence, and eventually ruining trade.” His principles
were equally honourable as regarded the workmen of rival employers. “I
have had many offers and opportunities,” he said to one, “of taking your
people, whom I could, with convenience to myself, have employed; but it is
a practice I abhor. Nevertheless, whatever game we play at, I shall always
avail myself of the rules with which ’tis played, or I know I shall make
but a very indifferent figure in it.”[107]

He was frequently asked to take gentlemen apprentices into his works, but
declined to receive them, though hundreds of pounds’ premium were in many
cases offered with them. He preferred employing the humbler class of boys,
whom he could train up as skilled workmen. He was also induced to prefer
the latter for another reason, of a still more creditable kind. “I have,”
said he, in answer to a gentleman applicant, “built and furnished a house
for the reception of one kind of apprentices--fatherless children, parish
apprentices, and hospital boys; and gentlemen’s sons would probably find
themselves out of place in such companionship.”

    [107] Boulton to John Taylor, 23rd January, 1769. Boulton MSS.

While occupied with his own affairs, and in conducting what he described
as “the largest hardware manufactory in the world,” Boulton found time to
take an active part in promoting the measures then on foot for opening up
the internal navigation of the country. He was a large subscriber to the
Grand Trunk and Birmingham Canal schemes, the latter of which was of the
greater importance to him personally, as it passed close by Soho, and thus
placed his works in direct communication both with London and the northern
coal and manufacturing districts.[108]

    [108] When the canal came to be constructed at the point at which
      it passed Soho, it occasioned him great anxiety through the
      leakage of the canal banks and loss of water for the purposes
      of his manufactory. The supply, especially in dry summers,
      was already too limited; but the canal threatened to destroy
      it altogether. Writing to Mr. Thomas Gilbert, M.P., on the
      subject in February, 1769, he said, “The very holes which Mr.
      Smeaton hath dug to try the ground, drink up the water nearly
      as fast as you can pour it in.... Let Smeaton or Brindley, or
      all the engineers upon earth give what evidence they will before
      Parliament, I am convinced by last summer’s experience that if
      the proprietors of the canal continue to take the two streams
      on which my mill depends, it is ruined. I might as well have
      built it upon the summit of the hill.” After the act had passed
      he wrote his friend Garbett, “I have seen the testimony of the
      two engineers, Smeaton and Yeoman, but I value the opinions
      of neither of them, nor of Brindley nor Simcox (in this case),
      nor of the whole tribe of jobbing ditchers, who are retained as
      evidence on any side which first applies for them.” His alarms,
      however, proved unfounded, as the leakage of the canal was
      eventually remedied; and in November, 1772, we find him writing
      to the Earl of Warwick, “Our navigation goes on prosperously;
      the junction with the Wolverhampton Canal is complete; and we
      already sail from Birmingham to Bristol and to Hull.”--Boulton

Coming down to a few years later, in 1770, we find his business still
growing, and his works and plant absorbing still more capital, principally
obtained by borrowing. In a letter to Mr. Adams, the celebrated architect,
requesting him to prepare the design of a new sale-room in London, he
described the manufactory at Soho as in full progress, from 700 to 800
persons being employed as metallic artists and workers in tortoiseshell,
stones, glass, and enamel. “I have almost every machine,” said he, “that
is applicable to those arts; I have two water-mills employed in rolling,
polishing, grinding, and turning various sorts of lathes. I have trained
up many, and am training up more plain country lads into good workmen;
and wherever I find indications of skill and ability, I encourage them.
I have likewise established correspondence with almost every mercantile
town in Europe, and am thus regularly supplied with orders for the grosser
articles in common demand, by which I am enabled to employ such a number
of hands as to provide me with an ample choice of artists for the finer
branches of work; and I am thereby encouraged to erect and employ a more
extensive apparatus than it would be prudent to provide for the production
of the finer articles only.”

It is indeed probable--though Boulton was slow to admit it--that he
had been extending his business more rapidly than his capital would
conveniently allow; for we find him becoming more and more pressed for
means to meet the interest on the borrowed money invested in buildings,
tools, and machinery. He had obtained 10,000_l._ from a Mr. Tonson of
London; and on the death of that gentleman, in 1772, he had considerable
difficulty in raising the means to pay off the debt. His embarrassment
was increased by a serious commercial panic, aggravated by the failure
of Fordyce brothers, by which a considerable sum deposited with them
remained locked up for some time, and he was eventually a loser to the
extent of 2000_l._ Other failures and losses followed; and trade came
almost to a standstill. Yet he bravely held on. “We have a thousand mouths
at Soho to feed,” he says; “and it has taken so much labour and pains to
get so valuable and well-organised a staff of workmen together, that the
operations of the manufactory must be carried on at whatever risk.” He
continued to receive distinguished visitors at his works. “Last week,” he
wrote Mr. Ebbenhouse, “we had Prince Poniatowski, nephew of the King of
Poland, and the French, Danish, Sardinian, and Dutch Ambassadors; this
week we have had Count Orloff, one of the five celebrated brothers who
are such favourites with the Empress of Russia; and only yesterday I had
the Viceroy of Ireland, who dined with me. Scarcely, a day passes without
a visit from some distinguished personage.”

Besides carrying on the extensive business connected with his manufactory
at Soho, this indefatigable man found time to prosecute the study of
several important branches of practical science. It was scarcely to be
supposed that he had much leisure at his disposal; but in life it often
happens that the busiest men contrive to find the most leisure; and he
who is “up to the ears” in work, can, nevertheless, snatch occasional
intervals to devote to inquiries in which his heart is engaged. Hence we
find Boulton ranging at intervals over a wide field of inquiry; at one
time studying geology, and collecting fossils, minerals, and specimens
for his museum; at another, reading and experimenting on fixed air; and at
another studying Newton’s works with the object of increasing the force of
projectiles.[109] But the subject which perhaps more than all interested
him was the improvement of the Steam Engine, which shortly after led to
his introduction to James Watt.

    [109] Among Boulton’s scientific memoranda, we find some curious
      speculations, bearing the date of 1765, relative to improvements
      which he was trying to work out in gunnery. He proposed the
      truer boring of the guns, the use of a telescopic sight, and a
      cylindrical shot with its end of a parabolic form as presenting
      in his opinion the least resistance to the air.



Want of water-power was one of the great defects of Soho as a
manufacturing establishment, and for a long time Boulton struggled with
the difficulty. The severe summer droughts obliged him to connect a
horse-mill with the water-wheel. From six to ten horses were employed as
an auxiliary power, at an expense of from five to eight guineas a week.
But this expedient, though costly, was found very inconvenient. Boulton
next thought of erecting a pumping-engine after Savery or Newcomen’s
construction, for the purpose of raising the water from the mill-stream
and returning it back into the reservoir--thereby maintaining a head of
water sufficient to supply the water-wheel and keep the mill in regular
work. “The enormous expense of the horse-power,” he wrote to a friend,
“put me upon thinking of turning the mill by fire, and I made many
fruitless experiments on the subject.”

In 1766 we find him engaged in a correspondence with the distinguished
Benjamin Franklin as to steam power. Eight years before, Franklin had
visited Boulton at Birmingham and made his acquaintance. They were
mutually pleased with each other, and continued to correspond during
Franklin’s stay in England, exchanging their views on magnetism,
electricity, and other subjects.[110] When Boulton began to study the
fire-engine with a view to its improvement, Franklin was one of the first
whom he consulted. Writing him on the 22nd February, 1766, he said,--

  “My engagements since Christmas have not permitted me to make any
  further progress with my fire-engine; but, as the thirsty season
  is approaching apace, necessity will oblige me to set about it
  in good earnest. Query,--Which of the steam-valves do you like
  best? Is it better to introduce the jet of cold water at the
  bottom of the receiver, or at the top? Each has its advantages
  and disadvantages. My thoughts about the secondary or mechanical
  contrivances of the engine are too numerous to trouble you with
  in this letter, and yet I have not been lucky enough to hit upon
  any that are objectionless. I therefore beg, if any thought occurs
  to your fertile genius which you think may be useful, or preserve
  me from error in the execution of this engine, you’ll be so kind
  as to communicate it to me, and you’ll very greatly oblige me.”

    [110] On the 22nd May, 1765, Franklin writes Boulton,--“Mr.
      Baskerville informs me that you have lately had a considerable
      addition to your fortune, on which I sincerely congratulate
      you. I beg leave to introduce my friend Doctor Small to your
      acquaintance, and to recommend him to your civilities. I would
      not take this freedom, if I were not sure it would be agreeable
      to you; and that you will thank me for adding to the number of
      those who from their knowledge of you must respect you, one who
      is both an ingenious philosopher and a most worthy honest man.
      If anything new in magnetism or electricity, or any other branch
      of natural knowledge, has occurred to your fruitful genius since
      I last had the pleasure of seeing you, you will by communicating
      it greatly oblige me.”

From a subsequent letter it appears that Boulton, like Watt--who was
about the same time occupied with his invention at Glasgow--had a model
constructed for experimental purposes, and that this model was now with
Franklin in London; for we find Boulton requesting the latter to “order a
porter to nail up the model in the box again and take it to the Birmingham
carrier at the Bell Inn, Smithfield.” After a silence of about a month
Franklin replied,--

  “You will, I trust, excuse my so long omitting to answer your kind
  letter, when you consider the excessive hurry and anxiety I have
  been engaged in with our American affairs.... I know not which of
  the valves to give the preference to, nor whether it is best to
  introduce your jet of cold water above or below. Experiments will
  best decide in such cases. I would only repeat to you the hint I
  gave, of fixing your grate in such a manner as to burn all your
  smoke. I think a great deal of fuel will then be saved, for two
  reasons. One, that smoke is fuel, and is wasted when it escapes
  uninflamed. The other, that it forms a sooty crust on the bottom
  of the boiler, which crust not being a good conductor of heat,
  and preventing flame and hot air coming into immediate contact
  with the vessel, lessens their effect in giving heat to the water.
  All that is necessary is, to make the smoke of fresh coals pass
  descending through those that are already thoroughly ignited. I
  sent the model last week, with your papers in it, which I hope
  got safe to hand.”[111]

    [111] Franklin to Boulton, March 19, 1766. Boulton MSS.

The model duly arrived at Soho, and we find Boulton shortly after occupied
in making experiments with it, the results of which are duly entered in
his note-books. Dr. Erasmus Darwin, with whom he was on very intimate
terms, wrote him from Lichfield, inquiring what Franklin thought of the
model and what suggestions he had made for its improvement. “Your model
of a steam-engine, I am told,” said he, “has gained so much approbation
in London, that I cannot but congratulate you on the mechanical fame you
have acquired by it, which, assure yourself, is as great a pleasure to me
as it could possibly be to yourself.”[112] Another letter of Darwin to
Boulton is preserved, without date, but apparently written earlier than
the preceding, in which the Doctor lays before the mechanical philosopher
the scheme of “a fiery chariot” which he had conceived,--in other words,
of a locomotive steam-carriage. He proposed to apply an engine with a
pair of cylinders working alternately, to drive the proposed vehicle;[113]
and he sent Boulton some rough diagrams illustrative of his views, which
he begged might be kept a profound secret, as it was his intention, if
Boulton approved of his plan and would join him as a partner, to endeavour
to build a model engine, and, if it answered, to take out a joint patent
for it. But Dr. Darwin’s scheme was too crude to be capable of being
embodied in a working model; and nothing more was heard of his fiery

    [112] Darwin to Boulton, March 11, 1766. Boulton MSS.

    [113] The following passage occurs in his letter:--“Suppose one
      piston up, and the vacuum made under it by the jet d’eau froid.
      That piston cannot yet descend, because the cock is not yet
      opened which admits the steam into its antagonist cylinder.
      Hence the two pistons are in equilibrio, being either of them
      pressed by the atmosphere. Then, I say, if the cock which admits
      the steam into the antagonist cylinder be opened gradually
      and not with a jerk, that the first mentioned [piston in the]
      cylinder will descend gradually and yet not less forcibly.
      Hence by the management of the steam cocks the motion may be
      accelerated, retarded, destroyed, revived, instantly and easily.
      And if this answers in practice as it does in theory, the
      machine cannot fail of success! Eureka!”

Another of Boulton’s numerous correspondents about the same time was Dr.
Roebuck, of Kinneil, then occupied with his enterprise at Carron, and
about to engage in working the Boroughstoness coal mines, of the results
of which he was extremely sanguine. He also wished Boulton to join him
as a partner, offering a tenth share in the concern, and to take back the
share if the result did not answer expectations. But Boulton’s hands were
already full of business nearer home, and he declined the venture. Roebuck
then informed him of the invention made by his ingenious friend Watt,
and of the progress of the model engine. This was a subject calculated
to excite the interest of Boulton, himself occupied in studying the
same subject, and he expressed a desire to see Watt, if he could make it
convenient to visit him at Soho.

It so happened that Watt had occasion to be in London in the summer of
1767, on the business connected with the Forth and Clyde Canal Bill, and
he determined to take Soho on his way home. When Watt paid his promised
visit, Boulton was absent; but he was shown over the works by his friend
Dr. Small, who had settled in Birmingham as a physician, and already
secured a high place in Boulton’s esteem. Watt was much struck with
the admirable arrangements of the Soho manufactory, and recognised at a
glance the admirable power of organisation which they displayed. Still
plodding wearily with his model, and contending with the “villanous bad
workmanship” of his Glasgow artisans, he could not but envy the precision
of the Soho tools and the dexterity of the Soho workmen. Some conversation
on the subject must have occurred between him and Small, to whom he
explained the nature of his invention; for we find the latter shortly
after writing Watt, urging him to come to Birmingham and join partnership
with Boulton and himself in the manufacture of steam-engines.[114]
Although nothing came of this proposal at the time, it had probably some
effect, when communicated to Dr. Roebuck, in inducing him to close with
Watt as a partner, and thus anticipate his Birmingham correspondents, of
whose sagacity he had the highest opinion.

    [114] Small wrote Watt from Birmingham, on the 7th January,
      1768:--“Our friend Boulton will by this post send letters both
      to you and Dr. Roebuck. I know not well how to resolve without
      seeing you. I have not the pleasure of being enough acquainted
      with Dr. R. to judge whether we should all suit one another.
      His integrity and generosity everybody agrees are great. You
      certainly know the proposal he has made to Boulton, who will
      tell you his determination about it. Before I knew of your
      connexion with Dr. R. my idea was that you should settle here,
      and that Boulton and I should assist you as much as we could,
      which in any case we will most certainly do. I have no kind of
      doubt of your success, nor of your acquiring fortune, if you
      proceed upon a proper plan as to the manner of doing business;
      which, if you do, you will be sole possessor of the affair even
      after your patent has expired. I had not thoroughly considered
      this part of the matter when you left me. In a partnership that
      I liked, I should not hesitate to employ any sum of money I can
      command on your scheme, and I am certain it may be managed with
      only a moderate capital. Whether it would be possible to manage
      the wheel and reciprocating engines by separate partnerships
      without their interfering I am not certain. If it is, Boulton
      and I would engage with you in either, _provided you will live
      here_.”--Boulton MSS.

In the following year Watt visited London on the business connected with
the engine patent. Small wrote to him there, saying, “Get your patent
and come to Birmingham, with as much time to spend as you can.” Watt
accordingly again took Birmingham on his way home. There he saw his
future partner for the first time, and they at once conceived a hearty
liking for each other. They had much conversation about the engine, and it
greatly cheered Watt to find that the sagacious and practical Birmingham
manufacturer should augur so favourably of its success as he did. Shortly
after, when Dr. Robison visited Soho, Boulton told him that although
he had begun the construction of his proposed pumping-engine, he had
determined to proceed no further with it until he saw what came of Watt
and Roebuck’s scheme. “In erecting my proposed engine,” said he, “I would
necessarily avail myself of what I learned from Mr. Watt’s conversation;
but this would not now be right without his consent.” Boulton’s conduct in
this proceeding was thoroughly characteristic of him, and merely affords
another illustration of the general fairness and honesty with which he
acted in all his business transactions.

Watt returned to Glasgow to resume his engine experiments and to proceed
with his canal surveys. He kept up a correspondence with Boulton, and
advised him from time to time of the progress made with his model. Towards
the end of the year we find him sending Boulton a package from Glasgow
containing “one dozen German flutes at 5_s._, and a copper digester 1_l._
10_s._” He added, “I have almost finished a most complete model of my
reciprocating-engine: when it is tried, I shall advise the success.” To
Dr. Small he wrote more confidentially, sending him in January, 1769, a
copy of the intended specification of his steam-engine. He also spoke
of his general business: “Our pottery,” said he, “is doing tolerably,
though not as I wish. I am sick of the people I have to do with, though
not of the business, which I expect will turn out a very good one. I
have a fine scheme for doing it all by fire or water mills, but not in
this country nor with the present people.”[115] Later, he wrote: “I have
had another three days of fever, from which I am not quite recovered.
This cursed climate and constitution will undo me.” Watt must have told
Small when at Birmingham of the probability of his being able to apply
his steam-engine to locomotion; for the latter writes him, “I told Dr.
Robison and his pupil that I hoped soon to travel in a fiery chariot of
your invention.” Later, Small wrote: “A linendraper at London, one Moore,
has taken out a patent for moving wheel-carriages by steam. This comes
of thy delays. I dare say he has heard of your inventions.... Do come to
England with all possible speed. At this moment, how I could scold you
for negligence! However, if you will come hither soon, I will promise to
be very civil, and buy a steam-chaise of you and not of Moore. And yet it
vexes me abominably to see a man of your superior genius neglect to avail
himself properly of his great talents. These short fevers will do you
good.”[116] Watt replied: “If linendraper Moore does not use _my_ engines
to drive his chaises, he can’t drive them by steam. If he does, I will
stop them. I suppose by the rapidity of his progress and puffing he is
too volatile to be dangerous.... You talk to me about coming to England,
just as if I was an Indian that had nothing to remove but my person. Why
do we encumber ourselves with anything else? I can’t see you before July
at soonest, unless you come here. If you do I can recommend you to a
fine sweet girl, who will be anything you want her to be if you can make
yourself agreeable to her.” Badinage apart, however, there was one point
on which Watt earnestly solicited the kind services of his friend. He had
become more than ever desirous of securing the powerful co-operation of
Matthew Boulton in introducing his invention to public notice:--

  “Seriously,” says he, “you will oblige me if you will negotiate
  the following affair:--I find that if the engine succeeds my
  whole time will be taken up in planning and erecting Reciprocating
  engines, and the Circulator must stand still unless I do what I
  have done too often, neglect certainty for hope. Now, Mr. Boulton
  wants one or more engines for his own use. If he will make a
  model of one of 20 inches diameter at least, I will give him my
  advice and as much assistance as I can. He shall have liberty
  to erect one of any size for his own use. If he should choose
  to have more the terms will be easy, and I shall consider myself
  much obliged to him. If it should answer, and he should not think
  himself repaid for his trouble by the use of it, he shall make
  and use it until he is repaid. If this be agreeable to him let me
  know, and I will propose it to the Doctor [Roebuck], and doubt
  not of his consent. I wish Mr. Boulton and you had entered into
  some negotiation with the Doctor about coming in as partners.
  I am afraid it is now too late; for the nearer it approaches to
  certainty, he grows the more tenacious of it.[117] For my part, I
  shall continue to think as I did, that it would be for our mutual
  advantage. His expectations are solely from the Reciprocator.
  Possibly he may be tempted to part with the half of the Circulator
  to you. This I say of myself. Mr. Boulton asked if the Circulator
  was contrived since our agreement. It was; but it is a part of
  the scheme, and virtually included in it.”[118]

    [115] Watt to Small, January 28, 1769. Boulton MSS.

    [116] Small to Watt, 18th April, 1769. Boulton MSS.

    [117] Roebuck was at this time willing to admit Boulton as a
      partner in the patent, but only as respected the profits of
      engines sold in the counties of Warwick, Stafford, and Derby.
      This Boulton declined, saying, “It would not be worth my while
      to make engines for three counties only; but it might be worth
      my while to make for all the world.”

    [118] Watt to Small, 28th April, 1769. Boulton MSS.

From this it will be seen how anxious Watt was to engage Boulton in taking
an interest in his invention. But though the fly was artfully cast over
the nose of the fish, still he would not rise. The times were out of
joint, business was stagnant, and Boulton was of necessity cautious about
venturing upon new enterprises. Small doubtless communicated the views
thus confidentially conveyed to him by Watt; and in his next letter he
again pressed him to come to Birmingham and have a personal interview with
Boulton as to the engine, adding, “bring this pretty girl with you when
you come.” But, instead of Watt, Roebuck himself went to see Boulton on
the subject. During the time of this visit, Watt again communicated to
Small his anxiety that Boulton should join in the partnership. “As for
myself,” said he, “I shall say nothing; but if you three can agree among
yourselves, you may appoint me what share you please, and you will find
me willing to do my best to advance the good of the whole; or, if this
[the engine] should not succeed, to do any other thing I can to make you
all amends, only reserving to myself the liberty of grumbling when I am
in an ill humour.”[119]

Small’s reply was discouraging. Both Boulton and he had just engaged in
another scheme, which would require all the ready money at their command.
Possibly the ill-success of the experiment Watt had by this time made with
his new model at Kinneil may have had some influence in deterring them
from engaging in what still looked a very unpromising speculation. Watt
was greatly cast down at this intelligence, though he could not blame his
friend for the caution he displayed in the matter.[120] He nevertheless
again returned to the subject in his letters to Small; and at last Boulton
was persuaded to enter into a conditional arrangement with Roebuck, which
was immediately communicated to Watt, who received the intelligence with
great exultation. “I shake hands,” he wrote to Small, “with you and Mr.
Boulton in our connexion, which I hope will prove agreeable to us all.”
His joy, however, proved premature, as it turned out that the agreement
was only to the effect, that if Boulton thought proper to exercise the
option of becoming a partner in the engine to the extent of one-third,
he was to do so within a period of twelve months, paying Roebuck a sum
of 1000_l._; but this option Boulton never exercised, and the engine
enterprise seemed to be as far from success as ever.

    [119] Watt to Small, 20th September, 1769. Boulton MSS.

    [120] “I am really very sorry on my own account,” he wrote, “that
      your engagements hinder you from entering into our scheme, for
      that ought to be the result of your deliberation. Though there
      are few things I have wished more for than being connected with
      you on many accounts, yet I should be very loath to purchase
      that pleasure at the expense of your quiet, which might be the
      case if you involved yourself in more business than you could
      easily manage, or, what is worse, find money for. Besides, this
      is not a trade, but a project; and no man should risk more money
      on a project than he can afford to lose.”--Watt to Small, 21st
      October, 1769. Boulton MSS.

In the mean time Watt became increasingly anxious about his own position.
He had been spending more money on fruitless experiments, and getting
into more debt. The six months he had been living at Kinneil had brought
him in nothing. He had been neglecting his business, and could not afford
to waste more time in prosecuting an apparently hopeless speculation. He
accordingly returned to his regular work, and proceeded with the survey
of the river Clyde, at the instance of the Glasgow Corporation. “I would
not have meddled with this,” he wrote to Dr. Small, “had I been certain of
being able to bring the engine to bear. But I cannot, on an uncertainty,
refuse every piece of business that offers. I have refused some common
fire-engines, because they must have taken my attention so up as to hinder
my going on with my own. However, if I cannot make it answer soon, I
shall certainly undertake the next that offers, for I cannot afford to
trifle away my whole life, which--God knows--may not be long. Not that I
think myself a proper hand for keeping men to their duty; but I must use
my endeavours to make myself square with the world, though I much fear I
never shall.”[121]

    [121] Watt to Small, 20th September, 1769.

Small lamented this apparent abandonment of the engine to its fate.
But though he had failed in inducing Boulton heartily to join Watt in
the enterprise, he did not yet despair. He continued to urge Watt to
complete his engine, as the fourteen years for which the patent lasted
would soon be gone. At all events he might send drawings of his engine
to Soho; and Mr. Boulton and he would undertake to do their best to have
one constructed for the purpose of exhibiting its powers.[122] To this
Watt agreed, and about the beginning of 1770, the necessary drawings were
sent to Soho, and an engine was immediately put in course of execution.
Patterns were made and sent to Coalbrookdale to be cast; but when the
castings were received, they were found exceedingly imperfect, and were
thrown aside as useless. They were then sent to an ironfounder at Bilston
to be executed; but the result was only another failure.

    [122] Small informed Watt that it was intended to make an engine
      for the purpose of _drawing canal boats_. “What Mr. Boulton and
      I,” he wrote, “are very desirous of is, to move canal boats by
      this engine; so we have made this model of a size sufficient for
      that purpose. We propose first to operate without any condenser,
      because coals are here exceedingly cheap, and because you can,
      more commodiously than we, make experiments on condensers,
      having several already by you. Above 150 boats are now employed
      on these new waveless canals, so if we can succeed, the field
      is not narrow.” This suggestion of working canal boats by steam
      immediately elicited a reply from Watt on the subject. Invention
      was so habitual to him that a new method of employing power was
      no sooner hinted than his active mind at once set to work to
      solve the problem. “Have you ever,” he wrote Small, “considered
      _a spiral oar_ for that purpose, or are you for two wheels?” And
      to make his meaning clear, he sketched out a rough but graphic
      outline of a screw propeller. Small’s reply was unfavourable:
      he replied, “I have tried models of spiral oars, and have
      found them all inferior to oars of either of the other forms;
      I believe because a cylinder of water immersed in water can be
      easily turned round its own axis. We propose to try gun-lock
      springs with the fixed part longer than the moving. If we cannot
      succeed, we will have recourse to what you have so obligingly
      and clearly described.” Finally Watt writes a fortnight later,
      “concerning spirals, I do not continue fond of them.”

About the beginning of 1770, another unsuccessful experiment was made
by Watt and Roebuck with the engine at Kinneil. The cylinder had been
repaired and made true by beating, but as the metal of which it was
made was soft, it was feared that the working of the piston might throw
it out of form. To prevent this, two firm parallel planes were fixed,
through which the piston worked, in order to prevent its vibration. “If
this should fail,” Roebuck wrote to Boulton, in giving an account of the
intended trial, “then the cylinder must be made of cast-iron. But I have
great confidence that the present engine will work completely, and by this
day se’nnight you may expect to hear the result of our experiments.”[123]
The good news, however, never went to Birmingham; on the contrary, the
trial proved a failure. There was some more tinkering at the engine, but
it would not work satisfactorily; and Watt went back to Glasgow with a
heavy heart.

    [123] Roebuck to Boulton, February 12, 1770.

Small again endeavoured to induce Watt to visit Birmingham, to superintend
the erection of the engine, the materials for which were now lying at
Soho. He also held out to Watt the hope of obtaining some employment
for him in the midland counties as a consulting engineer. But Watt could
not afford to lose more time in erecting trial-engines; and he was too
much occupied at Glasgow to leave it for the proposed uncertainty at
Birmingham. He accordingly declined the visit, but invited Small to
continue the correspondence; “for,” said he, “we have abundance of matters
to discuss, though the damned engine sleep in quiet.” Small wrote back,
professing himself satisfied that Watt was so fully employed in his
own profession at Glasgow. “Let nothing,” he said, “divert you from the
business of engineering. You are sensible that both Boulton and I engaged
in the patent scheme much more from inclination to be in some degree
useful to you than from any other principle; so that if you are prosperous
and happy, we do not care whether you find the scheme worth prosecuting or
not.”[124] Replying to Small’s complaint of himself, that he felt _ennuyé_
and stupid, taking pleasure in nothing but sleep, Watt said: “You complain
of physic; I find it sufficiently stupifying to be obliged to think on
any subject but one’s hobby; and I really am become monstrously stupid,
and can seldom think at all. I wish to God I could afford to live without
it; though I don’t admire your sleeping scheme. I must fatigue myself,
otherwise I can neither eat nor sleep. In short, I greatly doubt whether
the silent mansion of the grave be not the happiest abode. I am cured of
most of my youthful desires, and if ambition or avarice do not lay hold
of me, I shall be almost as much _ennuyé_ as you say you are.”[125]

    [124] Small to Watt, 17th September, 1770. Boulton MSS.

Small again recurred to the subject of Watt’s removal to Birmingham,
informing him that he had provided accommodation for him, “having kept a
whole house in my power, in hopes you may come to live here.”

Watt’s prospects were, however, brightening. He was then busily occupied
in superintending the construction of the Monkland Canal. He wrote Small
that he had a hundred men working under him, who had “made a confounded
gash in a hill,” at which they had been working for twelve months; that
by frugal living he had contrived to save money enough to pay his debts,
and that he had plenty of remunerative work before him. He had also become
concerned in a pottery, which, he said, “does very well, though we make
monstrous bad ware.”[126] He had not, indeed, got rid of his headaches,
though he was not so much afflicted by low spirits as he had been. But he
confessed that after all he hated the business of engineering, and wished
himself well rid of it, for the reasons stated in a preceding chapter.

    [125] Watt to Small, 20th October, 1770. Boulton MSS.

    [126] He then held an eighth share in the pottery, which brought
      him in about 70_l._ a year clear.

This comparatively prosperous state of Watt’s affairs did not, however,
last long. The commercial panic of 1772 put a sudden stop to most of
the canal schemes then on foot. The proprietors of the Monkland Canal
could not find the necessary means for carrying on the works, and Watt
consequently lost his employment as their engineer. He was thus again
thrown upon the world, and where was he to look for help? Naturally
enough, he reverted to his engine. But it was in the hands of Dr. Roebuck,
who was overwhelmed with debt, and upon the verge of insolvency. It
was clear that no help was to be looked for in that quarter. Again he
bethought him of Small’s invitations to Birmingham, and of the interest
that Boulton had taken in the engine scheme. Could he be induced at last
to become a partner? He again broached the subject to Small, telling him
how business had failed him; that he was now ready to go to Birmingham
and engage in English surveys, or do anything that would bring him in an
honest income. But, above all, would Boulton and Small, now that Roebuck
had failed, join him as partners in the engine business?

By this time Boulton himself had become involved in difficulties arising
out of the commercial pressure of the time, and was more averse than ever
to enter upon such an enterprise. But having lent Roebuck a considerable
sum of money, it occurred to Watt that the amount might be taken as part
of the price of Boulton’s share in the patent, if he would consent to
enter into the proposed partnership. He represented to Small the great
distress of Roebuck’s situation, which he had done all that he could to
relieve. “What little I can do for him,” he said, “is purchased by denying
myself the conveniences of life my station requires, or by remaining in
debt, which it galls me to the bone to owe.” Reverting to the idea of a
partnership with Boulton, he added, “I shall be content to hold a very
small share in it, or none at all, provided I am to be freed from my
pecuniary obligations to Roebuck, and have any kind of recompense for
even a part of the anxiety and ruin it has involved me in.” And again:
“Although I am out of pocket a much greater sum upon these experiments
than my proportion of the profits of the engine, I do not look upon that
money as the price of my share, but as money spent on my education. I
thank God I have now reason to believe that I can never, while I have
health, be at any loss to pay what I owe, and to live at least in a decent
manner; more, I do not violently desire.”[127]

In a subsequent letter Watt promised Small that he would pay an early
visit to Birmingham, and added, “there is nowhere I so much wish to be.”
In replying, Small pointed out a difficulty in the way of the proposed
partnership: “It is impossible,” he wrote, “for Mr. Boulton and me, or any
other honest man, to purchase, especially from two particular friends,
what has no market price, and at a time when they might be inclined
to part with the commodity at an under value.”[128] He added that the
high-pressure wheel-engine constructing at Soho, after Watt’s plans, was
nearly ready, and that Wilkinson, of Bradley, had promised that the boiler
should be sent next week. “Should the experiment succeed, or seem likely
to succeed,” he said, “you ought to come hither immediately upon receiving
the notice, which I will instantly send. In that case we propose to unite
three things under your direction, which would altogether, we hope, prove
tolerably satisfactory to you, at least until your merit shall be better

    [127] Watt to Small, 30th August, 1772. Boulton MSS.

    [128] Small to Watt, 16th November, 1772. Boulton MSS.

    [129] About this time, in order to bring himself and his engine
      into notice, Watt contemplated writing a treatise on steam and
      its applications. “I have some thoughts,” he wrote to Small, “of
      writing a book on the elements of the theory of steam-engines,
      in which, however, I shall only give the enunciation of the
      perfect engine. This book might do me and the scheme good.
      It would still leave the world in the dark as to the true
      construction of the engine. Something of this kind is necessary,
      as Smeaton is labouring hard at the subject, and if I can
      make no profit, at least I ought not to lose the honour of my
      experiments.”--Watt to Small, 17th August, 1773. Boulton MSS.
      To this letter Small replied, “The more I consider the propriety
      of your publishing about steam, the more I wish you to publish.
      Smeaton has only trifled hitherto, though he may perhaps
      discover something. He told Boulton some time ago that the
      circular engine would not do. He said he had considered it, and
      was sure of this. As B. does not much respect his genius, this
      had no effect.” Watt’s treatise was, however, never written; his
      attention being shortly after fully occupied by other and more
      engrossing subjects.

But before the experiment with the wheel-engine could be tried at Soho,
the financial ruin of Dr. Roebuck brought matters to a crisis. He was
now in the hands of his creditors, who found his affairs in inextricable
confusion. He owed some 1200_l._ to Boulton, who, rather than claim
against the estate, offered to take Roebuck’s two-thirds share in the
engine patent in lieu of the debt. The creditors did not value the engine
as worth one farthing, and were but too glad to agree to the proposal.
As Watt himself said, it was only “paying one bad debt with another.”
Boulton wrote to Watt requesting him to act as his attorney in the matter.
He confessed that he was by no means sanguine as to the success of the
engine, but, being an assayer, he was willing “to assay it and try how
much gold it contains.” “The thing,” he added, “is now a shadow; ’tis
merely ideal, and will cost time and money to realise it. We have made
no experiment yet that answers my purpose, and the times are so horrible
throughout the mercantile part of Europe, that I have not had my thoughts
sufficiently disengaged to think of new schemes.”[130]

    [130] Boulton to Watt, 29th March, 1773. Boulton MSS.

So soon as the arrangement for the transfer of Roebuck’s share to Boulton
was concluded, Watt ordered the engine in the outhouse at Kinneil to be
taken to pieces, packed up, and sent to Birmingham.[131] Small again
pressed him to come and superintend the work in person. But before he
could leave Scotland it was necessary that he should complete the survey
of the Caledonian Canal, which was still unfinished. This done, he
promised at once to set out for Soho. In any case, he had made up his mind
to leave his own country, of which he declared himself “heart-sick.”[132]
He hated its harsh climate, so trying to his fragile constitution.
Moreover, he disliked the people he had to deal with. He was also badly
paid for his work, a whole year’s surveying having brought him in only
about 200_l._ Out of this he had paid some portion to Dr. Roebuck to help
him in his necessity, “so that,” he said, “I can barely support myself and
keep untouched the small sum I have allotted for my visit to you.”[133]

Watt’s intention was either to try to find employment as a surveyor or
engineer in England, or obtain a situation of some kind abroad. He was,
however, naturally desirous of ascertaining whether it was yet possible to
do anything with the materials which now lay at Soho; and with the object
of visiting his friends there and superintending the erection of the
trial-engine, he at length made his final arrangements to leave Glasgow.
We find him arrived in Birmingham in May, 1774, where he at once entered
on a new and important phase of his professional career.

    [131] “As I found the engine at Kinneil perishing, and as it is
      from circumstances highly improper that it should continue there
      longer, and as I have nowhere else to put it, I have this week
      taken it to pieces and packed up the ironwork, cylinder, and
      pump, ready to be shipped for London on its way to Birmingham,
      as the only place where the experiments can be completed with
      propriety. I suppose the whole will not weigh above four tons.
      I have left the whole of the woodwork until we see what we are
      to do.”--Watt to Small, 20th May, 1773. Boulton MSS.

    [132] In a letter to Small, Watt wrote, “I begin now to see
      daylight through the affairs that have detained me so long, and
      think of setting out for you in a fortnight at furthest. I am
      monstrously plagued with my headaches, and not a little with
      unprofitable business. I don’t mean my own whims: these I never
      work at when I can do any other thing; but I have got too many
      acquaintances; and there are too many beggars in this country,
      which I am afraid is going to the devil altogether. Provisions
      continue excessively dear, and laws are made to keep them so.
      But luckily the spirit of emigrating rises high, and the people
      seem disposed to show their oppressive masters that they can
      live without them. By the time some twenty or thirty thousand
      more leave the country, matters will take a turn not much to the
      profit of the landholders.”--Watt to Small, 29th April, 1774.
      Boulton MSS.

    [133] Watt to Small, 25th July, 1773. Boulton MSS.



Watt had now been occupied for about nine years in working out the details
of his invention. Five of these had passed since he had taken out his
patent, and he was still struggling with difficulty. Several thousand
pounds had been expended on the engine, besides much study, labour,
and ingenuity; yet it was still, as Boulton expressed it, “a shadow, as
regarded its practical utility and value.” So long as Watt’s connexion
with Roebuck continued, there was indeed very little chance of getting
it favourably introduced to public notice. What it was yet to become as a
working power depended in no small degree upon the business ability, the
strength of purpose, and the length of purse of his new partner.

Had Watt searched Europe through, probably he could not have found a man
better fitted than Matthew Boulton for bringing his invention fairly
before the world. Many would have thought it rash on the part of the
latter, burdened as he was with heavy liabilities, to engage in a new
undertaking of so speculative a character. Feasible though the scheme
might be, it was an admitted fact that nearly all the experiments with
the models heretofore made had proved failures. It is true Watt firmly
believed that he had hit upon the right principle, and he was as sanguine
as ever of the eventual success of his engine. But though inventors are
usually sanguine, men of capital do not take up their schemes on that
account. Capitalists are rather disposed to regard sanguine inventors
as visionaries, full of theories of what is possible rather than of
well-defined plans of what is practicable and useful.

Boulton, however, amongst his many other gifts possessed an admirable
knowledge of character. His judgment of men was almost unerring. In
Watt he had recognised at his first visit to Soho, not only a man of
original inventive genius, but a plodding, earnest, intent, and withal
an exceedingly modest man; not given to puff, but on the contrary rather
disposed to underrate the merit of his inventions. Different though
their characters were in most respects, Boulton at once conceived a
hearty liking for him. The one displayed in perfection precisely those
qualities which the other wanted. Boulton was a man of ardent and
generous temperament, bold and enterprising, undaunted by difficulty, and
possessing an almost boundless capacity for work. He was a man of great
tact, clear perception, and sound judgment. Moreover, he possessed that
indispensable quality of perseverance, without which the best talents
are of comparatively little avail in the conduct of important affairs.
While Watt hated business, Boulton loved it. He had, indeed, a genius
for business,--a gift almost as rare as that for poetry, for art, or for
war. He possessed a marvellous power of organisation. With a keen eye
for details he combined a comprehensive grasp of intellect. While his
senses were so acute, that when sitting in his office at Soho he could
detect the slightest stoppage or derangement in the machinery of that
vast establishment, and send his message direct to the spot where it had
occurred, his power of imagination was such as enabled him to look clearly
along extensive lines of possible action in Europe, America, and the East.
For there is a poetic as well as a commonplace side to business; and the
man of business genius lights up the humdrum routine of daily life by
exploring the boundless region of possibility wherever it may lie open
before him.

Boulton had already won his way to the very front rank in his calling,
honestly and honourably; and he was proud of it. He had created many
new branches of industry, which gave regular employment to hundreds of
families. He had erected and organised a manufactory which was looked upon
as one of the most complete of its kind in England, and was resorted to
by visitors from all parts of the world. But Boulton was more than a man
of business: he was a man of culture, and the friend of cultivated men.
His hospitable mansion at Soho was the resort of persons eminent in art,
in literature, and in science; and the love and admiration with which
he inspired such men affords one of the best proofs of his own elevation
of character. Among the most intimate of his friends and associates were
Richard Lovell Edgeworth,[134] a gentleman of fortune, enthusiastically
devoted to his long-conceived design of moving land-carriages by steam;
Captain Keir, an excellent practical chemist, a wit and a man of learning;
Dr. Small, the accomplished physician, chemist, and mechanist; Josiah
Wedgwood, the practical philosopher and manufacturer, founder of a new and
important branch of skilled industry; Thomas Day, the ingenious author of
‘Sandford and Merton;’ Dr. Darwin, the poet-physician; Dr. Withering, the
botanist; besides others who afterwards joined the Soho circle,--not the
least distinguished of whom were Joseph Priestley and James Watt.[135]

    [134] Mr. Edgeworth was first introduced to the notice of Mr.
      Boulton in the following letter from Dr. Darwin (1767):--“Dear
      Boulton, I have got with me a mechanical friend, Mr. Edgeworth,
      from Oxfordshire,--the greatest conjurer I ever saw. God send
      fine weather, and pray come to my assistance, and prevail on
      Dr. Small and Mrs. Boulton to attend you to-morrow morning,
      and we will reconvey you to Birmingham if the devil permit. E.
      has the principles of nature in his palm, and moulds them as he
      pleases,--can take away polarity, or give it to the needle by
      rubbing it thrice on the palm of his hand! And can see through
      two solid oak boards without glasses! Wonderful! astonishing!!
      diabolical!!! Pray tell Dr. Small he must come to see these
      miracles. Adieu, E. Darwin.”

    [135] Richard Lovell Edgeworth says of this distinguished
      coterie,--“By means of Mr. Keir I became acquainted with Dr.
      Small of Birmingham, a man esteemed by all who knew him, and
      by all who were admitted to his friendship beloved with no
      common enthusiasm. Dr. Small formed a link which combined Mr.
      Boulton, Mr. Watt, Dr. Darwin, Mr. Wedgwood, Mr. Day, and myself
      together--men of very different characters, but all devoted
      to literature and science. This mutual intimacy has never
      been broken but by death, nor have any of the number failed to
      distinguish themselves in science or literature. Some may think
      that I ought with due modesty to except myself. Mr. Keir with
      his knowledge of the world and good sense; Dr. Small, with his
      benevolence and profound sagacity; Wedgwood, with his increasing
      industry, experimental variety, and calm investigation; Boulton,
      with his mobility, quick perception, and bold adventure; Watt,
      with his strong inventive faculty, undeviating steadiness,
      and bold resources; Darwin, with his imagination, science, and
      poetical excellence; and Day, with his unwearied research after
      truth, his integrity and eloquence;--proved altogether such a
      society as few men have had the good fortune to live with; such
      an assemblage of friends, as fewer still have had the happiness
      to possess, and keep through life.”--Memoirs, i. 186.

Boulton could not have been very sanguine at first as to the success of
Watt’s engine. There were a thousand difficulties in the way of getting
it introduced to general use. The principal one was the difficulty of
finding workmen capable of making it. Watt had been constantly worried
by “villanous bad workmen,” who failed to make any model that would go
properly. It mattered not that the principle of the engine was right;
if its construction was beyond the skill of ordinary handicraftsmen,
the invention was practically worthless. The great Smeaton was of this
opinion. When he saw the first model working at Soho, he admitted the
excellence of the contrivance, but predicted its failure, on the ground
that it was too complicated, and that workmen were not to be found capable
of manufacturing it on any large scale for general uses.

Watt himself felt that, if the engine was ever to have a fair chance,
it was now; and that if Boulton, with his staff of skilled workmen at
command, could not make it go, the scheme must be abandoned henceforward
as impracticable. Boulton must, however, have seen the elements of success
in the invention, otherwise he would not have taken up with it. He knew
the difficulties Watt had encountered in designing it, and he could well
appreciate the skill with which he had overcome them; for Boulton himself,
as we have seen, had for some time been occupied with the study of the
subject. But the views of Boulton on entering into his new branch of
business, cannot be better expressed than in his own words, as stated in
a letter written by him to Watt in 1769, when then invited to join the
Roebuck partnership:--

  “The plan proposed to me,”[136] said he, “is so very different
  from that which I had conceived at the time I talked with you
  upon the subject, that I cannot think it a proper one for me to
  meddle with, as I do not intend turning engineer. I was excited
  by two motives to offer you my assistance--which were, love of
  you, and love of a money-getting ingenious project. I presumed
  that your engine would require money, very accurate workmanship,
  and extensive correspondence, to make it turn out to the best
  advantage; and that the best means of keeping up our reputation
  and doing the invention justice, would be to keep the executive
  part out of the hands of the multitude of empirical engineers,
  who, from ignorance, want of experience, and want of necessary
  convenience, would be very liable to produce bad and inaccurate
  workmanship; all which deficiencies would affect the reputation of
  the invention. To remedy which, and to produce the most profit,
  my idea was to settle a manufactory near my own, by the side of
  our canal, where I would erect all the conveniences necessary for
  the completion of engines, and from which manufactory we would
  serve the world with engines of all sizes. By these means and your
  assistance we could engage and instruct some excellent workmen,
  who (with more excellent tools than would be worth any man’s while
  to procure for one single engine) could execute the invention 20
  per cent. cheaper than it would be otherwise executed, and with as
  great a difference of accuracy as there is between the blacksmith
  and the mathematical instrument maker.”

    [136] Dr. Roebuck proposed to confine Boulton’s profits to the
      engine business done only in three counties. It will be observed
      that Boulton declined to negotiate on such a basis.

He went on to state that he was willing to enter upon the speculation
with these views, considering it well worth his while “to make engines
for all the world,” though it would not be worth his while “to make for
three counties only;” besides, he declared himself averse to embark in any
trade that he had not the inspection of himself. He concluded by saying,
“Although there seem to be some obstructions to our partnership in the
engine trade, yet I live in hopes that you or I may hit upon some scheme
or other that may associate us in this part of the world, which would
render it still more agreeable to me than it is, by the acquisition of
such a neighbour.”[137]

Five years had passed since this letter was written, during which the
engine had made no way in the world. The partnership of Roebuck and Watt
had yielded nothing but vexation and debt; until at last, fortunately for
Watt--though at the time he regarded it as a terrible calamity--Roebuck
broke down, and the obstruction was removed which had prevented Watt and
Boulton from coming together. The latter at once reverted to the plan
of action which he had with so much sagacity laid down in 1769; and he
invited Watt to take up his abode at Soho until the necessary preliminary
arrangements could be made. He thought it desirable, in the first place,
to erect the engine, of which the several parts had been sent to Soho from
Kinneil, in order, if possible, to exhibit a specimen of the invention
in actual work. Boulton undertook to defray all the necessary expenses,
and to find competent workmen to carry out the instructions of Watt,
whom Boulton was also to maintain until the engine business had become

    [137] Boulton to Watt, 7th February, 1769. Boulton MSS.

    [138] In a statement prepared by Mr. Boulton for the consideration
      of the arbitrators between himself and Fothergill as to the
      affairs of that firm, the following passage occurs:--“The first
      engine that was erected at Soho I purchased of Mr. Watt and
      Dr. Roebuck. The cylinder was cast of solid grain tin, which
      engine, with the boiler, the valves, the condenser, and the
      pumps, were all sent from Scotland to Soho. This engine was
      erected for the use of the Soho manufactory, and for the purpose
      of making experiments upon by Mr. Watt, who occupied two years
      of his time at Soho with that object: and lived there at Mr.
      Boulton’s expense. Nevertheless Mr. Watt often assisted Boulton
      and Fothergill in anything in his power, and made one journey
      to London upon their business, when he worked at adjusting and
      marking weights manufactured by Boulton and Fothergill.” In
      another statement of a similar kind, Mr. Boulton says,--“The
      only fire-engine that was erected at Soho prior to Boulton and
      Watt obtaining the Act of Parliament, was entirely made and
      erected in Scotland, and was removed here by sea, being a part
      of my bargain with Roebuck. All that were afterwards erected
      were for persons that ordered them, and were at the expense of
      erecting them.”--Boulton MSS.

The materials brought from Kinneil were accordingly put together with as
little delay as possible; and, thanks to the greater skill of the workmen
who assisted in its erection, the engine, when finished, worked in a more
satisfactory manner than it had ever done before. In November, 1774, Watt
wrote Dr. Roebuck, informing him of the success of his trials; on which
the Dr. expressed his surprise that the engine should have worked at all,
“considering the slightness of the materials and its long exposure to the
injuries of the weather.” Watt also wrote to his father at Greenock. “The
business I am here about has turned out rather successful; that is to say,
the fire-engine I have invented is now going, and answers much better than
any other that has yet been made; and I expect that the invention will be
very beneficial to me.”[139] Such was Watt’s modest announcement of the
successful working of the engine on which such great results depended.

    [139] Quoted in Muirhead’s ‘Mechanical Inventions of James Watt,’
      ii. 79.

Much, however, remained to be done before either Watt or Boulton could
reap any benefit from the invention. Six years out of the fourteen for
which the patent was originally taken had already expired; and all that
had been accomplished was the erection of this experimental engine at
Soho. What further period might elapse before capitalists could be brought
to recognise the practical uses of the invention could only be guessed
at; but the probability was that the patent right would expire long before
such a demand for the engines arose as should remunerate Boulton and Watt
for their investment of time, labour, and capital. And the patent once
expired, the world at large would be free to make the engines, though Watt
himself had not recovered one farthing towards repaying him for the long
years of experiment, study, and ingenuity bestowed by him in bringing his
invention to perfection. These considerations made Boulton hesitate before
launching out the money necessary to provide the tools, machinery, and
buildings, for carrying on the intended manufacture on a large scale and
in the best style.

When it became known that Boulton had taken an interest in a new engine
for pumping water, he had many inquiries about it from the mining
districts. The need of a more effective engine than any then in use
was every year becoming more urgent. The powers of Newcomen’s engine
had been tried to the utmost. So long as the surface-lodes were worked,
its power was sufficient to clear the mines of water; but as they were
carried deeper, it was found totally inadequate for the work, and many
mines were consequently becoming gradually drowned out and abandoned.
The excessive consumption of coals by the Newcomen engines was another
serious objection to their use, especially in districts such as Cornwall,
where coal was very dear. When Small was urging Watt to come to Birmingham
and make engines, he wrote: “A friend of Boulton’s, in Cornwall, sent
us word a few days ago that four or five copper-mines are just going to
be abandoned because of the high price of coals, and begs us to apply to
them instantly. The York Buildings Company delay rebuilding their engine,
with great inconvenience to themselves, waiting for yours. Yesterday
application was made to me by a Mining Company in Derbyshire to know when
you are to be in England about the engines, because they must quit their
mine if you cannot relieve them.” The necessity for an improved pumping
power had set many inventors to work besides Watt, and some of the less
scrupulous of them were already trying to adopt his principle in such a
way as to evade his patent. Moore, the London linendraper, and Hatley,
one of Watt’s Carron workmen, had brought out and were pushing engines
similar to Watt’s; the latter having stolen and sold for a considerable
sum working drawings of the Kinneil engine.

From these signs Boulton saw that, in the event of the engine proving
successful, he and his partner would have to defend the invention against
a host of pirates; and he became persuaded that he would not be justified
in risking his capital in the establishment of a steam-engine manufactory
unless a considerable extension of the patent-right could be secured. To
ascertain whether this was practicable, Watt proceeded to London in the
beginning of 1775, to confer with his patent agent and take the opinion of
counsel on the subject. Mr. Wedderburn, who was advised with, recommended
that the existing patent should be surrendered, and in that case he did
not doubt that a new one would be granted. While in London, Watt looked
out for possible orders for his engine: “I have,” he wrote Boulton, “a
prospect of two orders for fire-engines here, one to water Piccadilly, and
the other to serve the south end of Blackfriars Bridge with water. I have
taken advice of several people whom I could trust about the patent. They
all agree that an Act would be much better and cheaper, a patent being
now 130_l._, the Act, if obtainable, 110_l._ The present patent has eight
years still to run, bearing date January, 1769. I understand there will
be an almost unlimited sale for wheel-engines to the West Indies, at the
rate of 100_l._ for each horse’s power.”[140]

    [140] Watt to Boulton, 31st January, 1775. Boulton MSS.

Watt also occupied some of his time in London in superintending the
adjustment of weights manufactured by Boulton and Fothergill, then sold
in considerable quantities through their London agent. That he continued
to take an interest in his old business of mathematical instrument making
is apparent from the visits which he made to several well-known shops.
One of the articles which he examined with most interest was Short’s
Gregorian telescope. At other times, by Boulton’s request, he went to see
the few steam-engines then at work in London and the neighbourhood, and
make inquiries as to their performances. With that object he examined the
engines at the New River, Hungerford, and Chelsea. At the latter place, he
said, “it was impossible to try the quantity of injection, and the fellow
told me lies about the height of the column of water.” But Watt soon grew
tired of London, “running from street to street all day about gilding,”
inquiring after metal-rollers, silver-platers, and button-makers. He did
his best, however, to execute the commissions which Boulton from time to
time sent him; and when these were executed, he returned to Birmingham to
confer with his friends as to the steps to be taken with respect to the
patent. The result of his conferences with Boulton and Small was, that it
was determined to take steps to apply for an Act for its extension in the
ensuing session of Parliament.

Watt went up to London a second time for the purpose of having the Bill
drawn. He had scarcely arrived there when the sad intelligence reached
him of the death of Dr. Small. He had long been ailing, yet the event
was a shock alike to himself and Boulton. The latter wrote Watt in the
bitterness of his grief, “If there were not a few other objects yet
remaining for me to settle my affections upon, I should wish also to
take up my abode in the mansions of the dead.” Watt replied, reminding
him of the sentiments of their departed friend, as to the impropriety of
indulging in unavailing sorrow, the best refuge from which was the more
sedulous performance of duty. “Come, my dear sir,” said he, “and immerse
yourself in this sea of business as soon as possible. Pay a proper respect
to your friend by obeying his precepts. I wait for you with impatience,
and assure yourself no endeavour of mine shall be wanting to render life
agreeable to you.”

It had been intended to include Small in the steam-engine partnership
on the renewal of the patent. He had been consulted in all the stages of
the proceedings, and one of the last things he did was to draw up Watt’s
petition for the Bill. No settled arrangement had yet been made--not even
between Boulton and Watt. Everything depended upon the success of the
application for the extension of the patent.

Meanwhile, through the recommendation of his old friend Dr. Robison, then
in Russia officiating as Mathematical Professor at the Government Naval
School at Cronstadt, Watt was offered an appointment under the Russian
Government, at a salary of about 1000_l._ a year. He was thus presented
with a means of escape from his dependence upon Boulton, and for the
first time in his life had the prospect before him of an income that to
him would have been affluence. But he entertained strong objections to
settling in Russia: he objected to its climate, its comparative barbarism,
and, notwithstanding the society of his friend Robison, to the limited
social resources of St. Petersburg. Besides, Boulton’s favours were so
gracefully conferred, that the dependence on him was not felt; for he made
the recipient of his favours feel as if the obligation were entirely on
the side of the giver. “Your going to Russia staggers me,” he wrote to
Watt; “the precariousness of your health, the dangers of so long a journey
or voyage, and my own deprivation of consolation, render me a little
uncomfortable; but I wish to assist and advise you for the best, without
regard to self.” The result was, that Watt determined to wait the issue
of the application for the extension of his patent.

The Bill was introduced to Parliament on the 28th of February, 1775, and
it was obvious from the first that it would have considerable opposition
to encounter. The mining interest had looked forward to Watt’s invention
as a means of helping them out of their difficulties and giving a new
value to their property by clearing the drowned mines of water. They
therefore desired to have the free use of the engine at the earliest
possible period; and when it was proposed to extend the patent by Act of
Parliament, they set up with one accord the cry of “No monopoly.” Up to
the present time, as we have seen, the invention had been productive to
Watt of nothing but loss, labour, anxiety, and headaches; and it was only
just that a reasonable period should be allowed to enable him to derive
some advantage from the results of his application and ingenuity. But the
mining interest took a different view of the matter. They did not see the
necessity of recognising the rights of the inventor beyond the term of
his existing patent, and they held that the public interests would suffer
if the proposed “monopoly” were granted. Nor were they without supporters
in Parliament, for among the most strenuous we find the name of Edmund
Burke,--influenced, it is supposed, by certain mining interests in the
neighbourhood of Bristol, which city he then represented.

There is no doubt that the public would have benefited by Watt’s invention
having been made free to all. But it was not for the public merely that
Watt had been working at his engine for fifteen long years. He was a man
of comparatively small means, and had been buoyed up and stimulated to
renewed exertion during that time by the hope of ultimate reward in the
event of its success. If labour could give a man a title to property in
his invention, Watt’s claim was clear. The condensing-engine had been
the product of his own skill, contrivance, and brain-work. But there
has always been a difficulty in getting the claims of mere brain-work
recognised. Had he expended his labour in building a house instead of
in contriving a machine, his right of property would at once have been
acknowledged. As it was, he had to contend for justice and persuade the
legislature of the reasonableness of granting his application for an
extension of the patent. In the “Case” which he drew up for distribution
amongst the members of the Lower House, on the motion being carried
for the recommittal of the Bill, he set forth that having, after great
labour and expense extending over many years, succeeded in completing
working engines of each of the two kinds he had invented, he found that
they could not be carried into profitable execution without the further
expenditure of large sums of money in erecting mills, and purchasing the
various materials and utensils necessary for making them; and from the
reluctance with which the public generally adopt new inventions, he was
afraid that the whole term granted by his patent would expire before the
engines should have come into general use and any portion of his expenses
be repaid:--

  “The inventor of these new engines,” said he, “is sorry that
  gentlemen of knowledge, and avowed admirers of his invention,
  should oppose the Bill by putting it in the light of a monopoly.
  He never had any intention of circumscribing or claiming the
  inventions of others; and the Bill is now drawn up in such a
  manner as sufficiently guards those rights, and must oblige him
  to prove his own right to every part of his invention which may
  at any time be disputed.... If the invention be valuable, it has
  been made so by his industry, and at his expense; he has struggled
  with bad health, and many other inconveniences, to bring it to
  perfection, and all he wishes is to be secured in the profits
  which he may reasonably expect from it,--profits which he cannot
  obtain without an exertion of his abilities to bring it into
  practice, by which the public must be the greatest gainers, and
  which are limited by the performance of the common engines; for
  he cannot expect that any person will make use of his contrivance,
  unless he can prove to them that savings will take place, and that
  his demand for the privilege of using the invention will amount
  only to a reasonable part of them. No man will lay aside a known
  engine, and stop his work to erect one of a new contrivance,
  unless he is certain to be a very great gainer by the exchange;
  and if any contrivance shall so far excel others as to enforce the
  use of it, it is reasonable that the author of such a contrivance
  should be rewarded.”

These weighty arguments could not fail to produce an impression on the
minds of all reasonable men, and the result was, that Parliament passed
an Act extending Watt’s patent right for the further term of twenty-four
years. Watt wrote Boulton on the 27th May,--“I hope to be clear to come
away by Wednesday or Thursday. I am heartily sick of this town and _fort
ennuyée_ since you left it. Dr. Roebuck is likely to get an order, out of
Smeaton’s hands, for an engine in Yorkshire that, according to Smeaton’s
calculation, will burn 1200_l._ per annum in coals. But this has had one
bad effect. It has made the Doctor repent of his bargain and wish again
to be upon the 1-10th [profits]; but we must see to keep him right if
possible, so don’t vex yourself about it.” Dr. Roebuck had been finally
settled with before the passing of the Act. It had been arranged that
Boulton should pay him 1000_l._ out of the first profits arising from
his share in the engine, making about 2200_l._ in all paid by Boulton to
Roebuck for his two-thirds of the patent.[141]

    [141] Bonds were given for the 1000_l._, but the assignees of
      Roebuck becoming impatient for the money, Boulton discharged
      them to get rid of their importunity, long before any profits
      had been derived from the manufacture of the engines.

Watt returned to Birmingham to set about the making of the engines for
which orders had already been received. Boulton had been busily occupied
during his absence in experimenting on the Soho engine. A new 18-inch
cylinder had been cast for it at Bersham by John Wilkinson, the great
ironfounder,[142] who had contrived a machine for boring it with accuracy.
This cylinder was substituted for the tin one brought from Kinneil,
and other improvements having been introduced, the engine was again set
to work with very satisfactory results. Watt found his partner in good
spirits; not less elated by the performances of the model than by the
passing of the Act; and arrangements were at once set on foot for carrying
on the manufacture of engines upon an extensive scale. Applications for
terms, followed by orders, shortly came in from the mining districts; and
before long the works at Soho were resounding with the clang of hammers
and machinery employed in manufacturing steam-engines for all parts of
the civilised world.

    [142] John Wilkinson, the “father of the iron-trade” as he styled
      himself, was a man of extraordinary energy of character.
      He was strong-headed and strong-tempered and of inflexible
      determination. His father, Isaac Wilkinson, who originally
      started the iron trade at Wrexham, was a man possessed of
      quick discernment and versatile talents, though he wanted
      that firmness and constancy of purpose which so eminently
      distinguished his son. Isaac Wilkinson used thus to tell his
      own history:--“I worked,” said he, “at a forge in the north.
      My masters gave me 12_s._ a week: I was content. They raised
      me to 14_s._: I did not ask them for it. They went on to
      16_s._, 18_s._: I never asked them for the advances. They gave
      me a guinea a week! Said I to myself, if I am worth a guinea
      a week to you, I am worth more to myself! I left them, and
      began business on my own account--at first in a small way. I
      prospered. I grew tired of my leathern bellows, and determined
      to make iron ones. Everybody laughed at me. I did it, and
      applied the steam-engine to blow them; and they all cried,
      ‘Who could have thought it!’” His son John carried on the
      operations connected with the iron manufacture on a far more
      extensive scale than his father at Bradley, Willey, Snedshill,
      and Bersham. His castings were the largest until then attempted,
      and the boring machinery which he invented was the best of its
      kind. All the castings for Boulton and Watt’s large Cornish
      engines were manufactured by him, previous to the erection
      of the Soho foundry. He also bored cannon for the government
      on a large scale. Amongst his other merits, John Wilkinson
      is clearly entitled to that of having built the first iron
      vessel. It was made to bring peat-moss to his iron furnace at
      Wilson House, near Castle Head, in Cartmel, in order to smelt
      the hematite iron-ore of Furness. This was followed by other
      larger iron vessels, one of which was of 40 tons burden, and
      used to carry iron down the Severn. Before Wilkinson’s first
      iron boat was launched, people laughed at the idea of its
      _floating_,--as it was so well known that iron immediately sank
      in water! In a letter to Mr. Stockdale, of Carke, Cartmel, the
      original of which is before us, dated Broseley, 14th July,
      1787, Mr. Wilkinson says, “Yesterday week my iron boat was
      launched,--answers all my expectations, and has convinced the
      unbelievers, who were 999 in 1000. It will be only a nine days’
      wonder, and afterwards a Columbus’s egg.” In another letter,
      dated Bradley Iron Works, 24th Oct., 1788, he writes to the
      same,--“There have been two iron vessels launched in my service
      since 1st September. One is a canal-boat for this navigation,
      the other a barge of 40 tons, for the river Severn. The last was
      floated on Monday, and is, I expect, now at Stourport, a-lading
      with bar-iron. My clerk at Broseley advises me that she swims
      remarkably light, and exceeds even my own expectations.” For
      further notice of John Wilkinson, see ‘Lives of the Engineers,’
      ii. 337, 356.




Watt now arranged to take up his residence in Birmingham until the issue
of the steam-engine enterprise could be ascertained, and he went down
to Glasgow to bring up his two children, whom he had left in charge of
their relatives. Boulton had taken a house on Harper’s Hill, which was in
readiness for the reception of the family on their arrival about the end
of August, 1775. Regent’s-place, Harper’s Hill, was then the nearest house
to Soho on that side of Birmingham. It was a double house, substantially
built in brick, with stone facings, standing on the outskirts of the town,
surrounded by fields and gardens. St. Paul’s, the nearest church, was not
built until four years after Watt took up his abode there. But the house
at Harper’s Hill is in the country no longer: it is now surrounded in
all directions by dense masses of buildings, and is itself inhabited by
working people.

The first engine made at Soho was one ordered by John Wilkinson to
blow the bellows of his ironworks at Broseley. Great interest was,
of course, felt in the success of this engine. Watt took great pains
with the drawings; the workmen did their best to execute the several
parts accurately, for it was understood that many orders depended upon
whether it worked satisfactorily or not. Wilkinson’s iron-manufacturing
neighbours, who were contemplating the erection of Newcomen engines,
suspended their operations until they had an opportunity of seeing
what Boulton and Watt’s engine could do; and all looked forward to its
completion with the most eager interest. When all was ready at Soho, the
materials were packed up and sent to Broseley, Watt accompanying them
to superintend the erection. He had as yet no assistant to whom he could
intrust such a piece of work, on which so much depended. The engine was
erected and ready for use about the beginning of 1776. As it approached
completion Watt became increasingly anxious to make a trial of its powers.
But Boulton wrote to him not to hurry--not to let the engine make a stroke
until every possible hinderance to its successful action had been removed;
“and then,” said he, “in the name of God, fall to and do your best.” The
result of the extreme care taken with the construction and erection of
the engine was entirely satisfactory. It worked to the admiration of all
who saw it, and the fame of Boulton and Watt became great in the midland

While Watt was thus occupied, Boulton was pushing on the new buildings
at Soho. He kept his partner fully advised of all that was going on.
“The new forging-shop,” he wrote, “looks very formidable: the roof is
nearly put on, and the hearths are both built.” Tools and machinery were
being prepared, and all looked hopeful for the future. Orders were coming
in for engines. One in hand for Bloomfield Colliery was well advanced.
Many inquiries had come from Cornwall. Mr. Papps, of Truro, was anxious
to introduce the engine in that county. Out of forty engines there,
only eighteen were in work; so that there was a fine field for future
operations. “Pray tell Mr. Wilkinson,” Boulton added, “to get a dozen
cylinders cast and bored, from 12 to 50 inches diameter, and as many
condensers of suitable sizes. The latter must be sent here, as we will
keep them ready fitted up, and then an engine can be turned out of hand
in two or three weeks. I have fixed my mind upon making from twelve to
fifteen reciprocating and fifty rotative engines per annum. I assure you
that of all the toys and trinkets which we manufacture at Soho, none shall
take the place of fire-engines in respect of my attention.”[143]

Boulton was not, however, exclusively engrossed by engine affairs. Among
other things he informed Watt that he had put his little boy Jamie to a
good school, and that he was very much occupied, as usual, in entertaining
visitors. “The Empress of Russia,” he wrote, “is now at my house,
and a charming woman she is.” The Empress afterwards sent Boulton her
portrait, and it was long one of the ornaments of Soho. Amidst his various
occupations he contrived to find leisure for experiments on minerals,
having received from a correspondent in Wales a large assortment of
iron-ores to assay. He was also trying experiments on the model engine,
the results of which were duly communicated to his partner.[144]

    [143] Boulton to Watt, 24th February, 1776. Boulton MSS.

    [144] Watt was himself occupied, during his temporary residence at
      Broseley, in devising improvements in the details of his engine.
      Boulton says--“I observe you are thinking of making an inverted
      cylinder. Pray how are you to counterbalance the descent of
      the piston and pump rods, which will be a vast weight? If by a
      counterweight you gain nothing. But if you can employ the power
      that arises from the descent of that vast weight to strain a
      spring that will repay its debts--if by it you can compress
      air in an iron cylinder which in its return will contribute to
      overcome the _vis inertiæ_ of the column of water to be raised,
      you will thereby get rid of that unmechanical tax, and very
      much improve the reciprocating engine.”--Boulton to Watt, 24th
      February, 1776. Boulton MSS.

On Watt’s return to Soho, Boulton proceeded to London on financial
affairs, as well as to look after engine orders. He there found reports
in circulation among the engineering class that the new engine had proved
a failure. The Society of Engineers in Holborn, of which Smeaton was the
great luminary, had settled it that neither the tools nor the workmen
existed that could manufacture so complex a machine with sufficient
precision, and it was asserted that all the ingenuity and skill of Soho
had been unable to conquer the defects of the piston. “So said Holmes, the
clockmaker,” wrote Boulton,--Holmes being the intimate friend of Smeaton;
“but no language will be sufficiently persuasive on that head except the
good performance of the engines themselves.”[145] Boulton, therefore,
urged the completion of the engine then in hand for Cooke and Company’s
distillery at Stratford-le-Bow, near London. “Wilby,” [the managing
partner,] said he, “seems very impatient, and so am I, both for the sake
of reputation as well as to begin to turn the tide of money,”--the current
of which had as yet been all outwards. Boulton went to see the York
Buildings engine, which had been reconstructed by Smeaton, and was then
reckoned one of the best on the Newcomen plan. The old man who tended it
lauded the engine to the skies, and notwithstanding Boulton’s description
of the new engines at work in Staffordshire, he would not believe that
any engine in existence could excel his own.

    [145] Boulton to Watt, 23rd April, 1776. Boulton MSS.

In the course of the summer Watt again visited Glasgow,--this time for the
purpose of bringing back a wife. The lady he proposed to marry was Miss
Anne Macgregor, daughter of a respectable dyer. The young lady’s consent
was obtained, as well as her father’s, to the proposed union; but the
latter, before making any settlement on his daughter, intimated to Watt
that he desired to see the partnership agreement between him and Boulton.
Now, although the terms of partnership had been generally arranged, they
had not yet been put into legal form, and Watt asked that this should be
done for the cautious old gentleman’s satisfaction without delay.[146]
About his love affair Watt wrote,--

  “Whether a man of the world, such as you, look upon my present
  love as the folly of youth or the dotage of age [Watt was then in
  his fortieth year], I find myself in no humour to lay it aside, or
  to look upon it in either of these lights, but consider it as one
  of the wisest of my actions, and should look upon a disappointment
  in it as one of the greatest of my misfortunes.... I have had
  better health since I left you than has been my lot for years, and
  my spirits have borne me through my vexations wonderfully. I have
  lost all dread of any future connexion with Monsieur la Verole,
  and, if I carry my point in this matter, I hope to be very much
  more useful to you than has hitherto been in my power. The spur
  will be greater.”[147]

    [146] The arrangement between the partners is indicated by the
      following passage of Watt’s letter to Boulton:--“As you may have
      possibly mislaid my missive to you concerning the contract, I
      beg just to mention what I remember of the terms.

      “1. I to assign to you two-thirds of the property of the

      “2. You to pay all expenses of the Act or others incurred before
      June, 1775 (the date of the Act), and also the expense of future
      experiments, which money is to be sunk without interest by you,
      being the consideration you pay for your share.

      “3. You to advance stock in trade bearing interest, but having no
      claim on me for any part of that, further than my intromissions;
      the stock itself to be your security and property.

      “4. I to draw one-third of the profits so soon as any arise
      from the business, after paying the workmen’s wages and goods
      furnished, but abstract from the stock in trade, excepting the
      interest thereof, which is to be deducted before a balance is

      “5. I to make drawings, give directions, and make surveys, the
      company paying the travelling expenses to either of us when upon
      engine business.

      “6. You to keep the books and balance them once a year.

      “7. A book to be kept wherein to be marked such transactions as
      are worthy of record, which, when signed by both, to have the
      force of the contract.

      “8. Neither of us to alienate our share without consent of the
      other, and if either of us by death or otherwise shall be
      incapacitated from acting for ourselves, the other of us to be
      the sole manager without contradiction or interference of heirs,
      executors, assignees, or others; but the books to be subject to
      their inspection, and the acting partner of us to be allowed a
      reasonable commission for extra trouble.

      “9. The contract to continue in force for twenty-five years,
      from the 1st of June, 1775, when the partnership commenced,
      notwithstanding the contract being of later date.

      “10. Our heirs, executors, and assignees, bound to observance.

      “11. In case of demise of both parties, our heirs, &c., to succeed
      in same manner, and if they all please, they may burn the

      “If anything be very disagreeable in these terms, you will
      find me disposed to do everything reasonable for your
      satisfaction.”--Boulton MSS.

    [147] Watt to Boulton, 3rd July, 1776. Boulton MSS.

While in Scotland Watt obtained orders for several engines; amongst
others, he undertook to supply one for the Torryburn Colliery, in Fife, on
the terms of receiving one-third of the savings effected by it compared
with the engine then at work, with such further sum as might be judged
fair. Another was ordered by Sir Archibald Hope for his colliery near
Edinburgh, on similar terms. At the same time Watt proceeded with the
collection of his old outstanding debts, though these did not amount to
much. “I believe,” he wrote to Boulton, “I shall have no occasion to draw
on you for any money, having got in some of my old scraps, which will
serve, or nearly serve, my occasions here.”

The deed of partnership not arriving, Watt wrote again, pressing Boulton
for some communication from him to satisfy the old gentleman as to his

  “Don’t let me be detected in a falsehood,” said he, “or accused of
  imprudence. The thing which sticks most in his [Mr. Macgregor’s]
  stomach is, that somehow or other, in case of the failure of
  success, I may be brought into a load of debt which may totally
  ruin me. I hope you will excuse his caution in this matter, as I
  do, when you consider that he is disposing of a favourite child,
  and consequently must expect all the security possible for her
  wellbeing. I must also do him the justice to say that he has
  behaved to me in a very open and friendly manner; and, when he
  found that his daughter’s affections were engaged beyond recall,
  gave his consent with a good grace.... I have nothing to write
  you in the way of news. I am bandied about like a football, and
  perfectly impatient to leave this country, but do not care to
  come away without my errand. I long vastly to hear from you, how
  you all are, and how matters go on. I hope Jemmy is minding his
  school and is well: you need not tell him nor anybody else that
  I am going to bring him home a mamma.”[148]

Boulton’s reply was perfectly satisfactory. He confirmed the heads of
the agreement, as sketched out by Watt himself, adopting his own words.
He warmly congratulated him on his approaching marriage, being convinced
that it was the goddess of wisdom that had led him to the altar of love.
But he thought Watt might be over delicate as to money matters.

  “You certainly,” said he, “have a right to expect from the lady’s
  father a child’s share, both present and reversionary; and you
  certainly have a right to expect some ready money, as a small sum
  may be of more importance to you in the meridian of life than a
  large one at the close of it. I have always heard you speak of
  the old gentleman as a man of exceeding good sound sense, and
  therefore I should think you will have the less difficulty in
  settling matters with him. No doubt he will expect some settlement
  to be made upon his daughter, and all that I advise is, that you
  do not undervalue (according to your custom) your own abilities
  or your property. It may be difficult to say what is the value of
  your property in partnership with me. However, I will give it a
  name, and I do say that I would willingly give you two or perhaps
  three thousand pounds for the assignment of your third part of
  the Act of Parliament; but I should be sorry to make you so bad
  a bargain, or to make any bargain at all that tended to deprive
  me of your friendship, acquaintance, and assistance,--hoping, as
  I do, that we shall harmoniously live to wear out the twenty-five
  years together, which I had rather do than gain a Nabob’s fortune
  by being the sole proprietor.... I wish I had more time to tell
  you all the circumstances that have occurred in the engine trade;
  but that shall be the subject of my next. All is well, and when
  you return you’ll be quite charmed at the simplicity and quietness
  of the Soho engine.”[149]

    [148] Watt to Boulton, 8th July, 1776. Boulton MSS.

    [149] Boulton to Watt, 15th July, 1776. Boulton MSS.

With his usual want of confidence in himself, Watt urged Boulton to
come down to Glasgow and assist him in concluding matters with the old

  “I am afraid,” he wrote, “that I shall otherwise make a very bad
  bargain in money matters, which wise men like you esteem the most
  essential part, and I myself, although I be an enamoured swain,
  do not altogether despise. You may perhaps think it odd that in
  the midst of my friends here I should call for your help; but the
  fact is, that from several reasons I do not choose to place that
  confidence in any of my friends here that would be necessary in
  such a case, and I do not know any of them that have more to say
  with the gentleman in question than I have myself. Besides, you
  are the only person who can give him satisfactory information
  concerning my situation.”

But Boulton was too busy at the time to go down to Glasgow to the help
of his partner. He was full of work, full of orders, full of Soho. He

  “Although I have added to the list of my bad habits by joking
  upon matrimony, yet my disposition and my judgment would lead me
  to marry again were I in your case. I know you will be happier as
  a married man than as a single one, and therefore it is wisdom
  in you to wed; and if that could not be done without my coming
  to Scotland, I certainly would come if it were as far again;
  but I am so beset with difficulties, that nothing less than the
  absolute loss of your life, or wife--which is virtually the same
  thing--could bring me.”

He further explained that a good deal of extra work had fallen upon
him, through the absence of some of his most important assistants. Mr.
Matthews, his London financial agent, like Watt, was about to be married,
and would be absent abroad for a tour on a wedding trip, in which he was
to be accompanied by Fothergill, Boulton’s partner in the toy and button
trade. Mr. Scale, the manager, was also absent, added to which the button
orders were in arrear some 16,000 gross; so that, said Boulton, “I have
more real difficulties to grapple with than I hope ever to have in any
other year in my life.”

There were also constant visitors arriving at Soho: among others the Duke
of Buccleuch, who had called to see the works and inquire after Mr. Watt;
and Mr. Moor, of the Society of Engineers in the Adelphi, who had come to
see with his own eyes whether the reports in circulation against the new
engine were true or false. The perfecting of the details of the engine
also required constant attention.

  “Our copper bottom,” said Boulton, “hath plagued us very much
  by steam leaks, and therefore I have had one cast (with its
  conducting pipe) all in one piece; since which the engine doth
  not take more than 10 feet of steam, and I hope to reduce that
  quantity, as we have just received the new piston, which shall be
  put in and at work to-morrow. Our Soho engine never was in such
  good order as at present. Bloomfield and Willey [engines] are both
  well, and I doubt not but Bow engine will be better than any of

Boulton was almost as full of speculation as Watt himself as to the means
of improving the engine. “I did not sleep last night,” he wrote, “my mind
being absorbed by steam.” One of his speculations was as to the means of
increasing the heating surface, and with that object he proposed to apply
the fire “in copper spheres within the water.” His mind was also running
on economising power by working steam expansively, “being clear that the
principle is sound.”

Later, he wrote Watt that he had an application from a distiller at
Bristol for an engine to raise 15,000 gallons of ale per hour 15 feet
high; another for a coal mine in Wales, and two others for London
distilleries. To add to his anxieties, one Humphry Gainsborough, a
dissenting minister at Henley-on-Thames, had instituted proceedings
against Watt for an alleged piracy of his invention! On this Boulton
wrote to his partner,--“I have just received a summons to attend the
Solicitor-General next week in opposition to Gainsborough, otherwise
the solicitor will make his report. This is a disagreeable circumstance,
particularly at this season, when you are absent. Joseph [Harrison] is in
London, and idleness is in our engine-shop.” There was therefore every
reason why Watt should make haste to get married, and return to Soho as
speedily as possible. On the 28th July, 1776, Watt wrote to apologise
for his long absence, and to say that the event was to come off on the
following Monday, after which he would set out immediately for Liverpool,
where he proposed to meet Boulton, unless countermanded. He also intimated
that he had got another order for an engine at Leadhills.[150] Arrived
at Liverpool, a letter from Boulton met him, saying he had been under the
necessity of proceeding to London.

  “Gainsborough,” said he, “hath appointed to meet me at Holt’s,
  his attorney, on Monday, when I shall say little besides
  learning his principles and invention. If we had a hundred wheels
  [wheel-engines] ready made, and a hundred small engines, like
  Bow engine, and twenty large ones executed, we could readily
  dispose of them. Therefore let us make hay while the sun shines,
  and gather our barns full before the dark cloud of age lowers
  upon us, and before any more Tubal Cains, Watts, Dr. Faustuses,
  or Gainsboroughs, arise with serpents like Moses’s to devour
  all others.... As to your absence, say nothing about it. I will
  forgive it this time, provided you promise me never to marry

    [150] During his Scotch visit, Watt spent much of his time in
      arranging his father’s affairs, which had got into confusion.
      He was now seventy-five years old, and grown very infirm. “He
      is perfectly incapable,” wrote his son, “of giving himself the
      least help, and the seeing him in such a situation has much hurt
      my spirits.”--Watt to Boulton, 28th July, 1766. Boulton MSS.

    [151] Boulton to Watt (without date), 1776. Boulton MSS. In
      this letter, Boulton throws out a suggestion for Watt’s
      consideration--“When,” he says, “we have got our two-foot pumps
      up, I think it would be right to try our Soho engine with a
      steam strong enough to work the pumps with the axis in the
      centre of the beam, which will be almost 19 lb. upon the inch.”

Watt hastened back to Birmingham, and after settling his wife in her new
home, proceeded with the execution of the orders for engines which had
come in during his two months’ absence. Mr. Wilby was impatient for the
delivery of the Bow engine, and as soon as it was ready, which was early
in September, the materials were forwarded to London with Joseph Harrison,
to be fitted and set to work. Besides careful verbal instructions, Watt
supplied Joseph with full particulars in writing of the measures he was to
adopt in putting the engine together. Not a point in detail was neglected,
and if any difficulty arose, Joseph was directed at once to communicate
with him by letter. When the engine was set to work, it was found that
the steam could not be kept up, on which Watt suggested that as it had
been calculated to make only ten strokes per minute--that being enough
to raise the quantity of water desired--the reason of the defect must be
that, as it was going at fourteen or fifteen strokes the minute, it must
be going too fast. He also pointed out that probably the piston was not
quite good, and perhaps there was some steam-leak into the inner cylinder,
or by the regulators into the condenser; or it was possible that the
injection might spout too far up the horizontal steam-pipe and throw water
into the inner nozzle. All these points Joseph must carefully look to. On
further trials the engine improved; still its performances did not come
up to Watt’s expectations, and there were consequently more directions
from him as to the packing of the pistons and measures for the prevention
of leaks. But to see that his suggestions were properly carried out, Watt
himself went up to town in November, and had the machine put in complete
working trim. His partner, however, could not spare him long, as other
orders were coming in. “We have a positive order,” wrote Boulton, “for an
engine for Tingtang mine, and, from what I heard this day from Mr. Glover,
we may soon expect other orders from Cornwall. Our plot begins to thicken
apace, and if Mr. Wilkinson don’t bustle a little, as well as ourselves,
we shall not gather our harvest before sunset.” ... “I hope to hear,” he
added, “that Joseph hath made a finish, for he is much wanted here.... I
perceive we shall be hard pushed in engine-work; but I have no fears of
being distanced when once the exact course or best track is determined
on.”[152] Joseph Harrison got quite knocked up and ill through his anxiety
about the Bow engine, on which Boulton wrote Watt to send at once for Dr.
Fordyce to attend him, “let the expense be what it will, until you think
him safe landed.”

    [152] Boulton to Watt, 3rd November, 1776. In the same letter
      Boulton informs Watt that Perrins, another fireman, had returned
      from Bedworth, and had not a stroke to do, the fittings for the
      second engine not having arrived. The first engine was working
      twenty-four hours a day, but the pit was so full of water that
      the owners feared they would before long be drowned out; and
      if the work was stopped, the loss would be far greater than the
      whole value of the engine. But the sales of coal, though large,
      were but “a small consideration in comparison with the starving
      to death of the poor ribbon-weavers of Coventry and a great part
      of Oxfordshire.... Coals are 9_d._ and 10_d._ per cwt., and ’tis
      said they will be a shilling at Birmingham on Monday.”

A letter reached Soho from the Shadwell Waterworks Company relative to a
pumping-engine, and Boulton asked Watt, while in town, to wait upon them
on the subject; but he cautioned Watt that he “never knew a Committee
but, in its corporate capacity, was both rogue and fool, and that the
Shadwell Committee were rich rogues.” Watt, by his own account, treated
them very cavalierly. “Yesterday,” said he, “I went again to Shadwell
to meet the deputies of the Committee, and to examine their engines when
going. We came to no terms further than what we wrote them before, which I
confirmed, and offered moreover to keep the engine in order for one year.
They modestly insisted that we should do so for the whole twenty-five
years, which I firmly refused. They seemed to doubt the reality of the
performances of the Bow engine; so I told them we did not solicit their
orders and would wait patiently until they were convinced,--moreover, that
while they had any doubts remaining, we would not undertake their business
on any terms. I should not have been so sharp with them had they not begun
with bullying me, _selon la mode de Londres_. But the course I took was
not without its effect, for in proportion as they found I despised their
job, they grew more civil. After parting with these heroes I went down
to Stratford, where I found that the engine had gone very well. I caused
it to be kept going all the afternoon, and this morning I new-heat the
piston and kept it going till dinner time at about fifteen strokes per
minute, with a steam of one inch or at most two inches strong, and the
longer it went the better it grew.... I propose that Joseph should not
leave it for a few days, until both his health and that of the engine be
confirmed. A relapse of the engine would ruin our reputation here, and
indeed elsewhere.”[153]

    [153] Watt to Boulton, 3rd December, 1776. Boulton MSS.

The Bow engine had, however, a serious relapse in the following spring,
and it happened in this way:--Mr. Smeaton, the engineer, having heard
of its success, which he doubted, requested Hadley, Boulton’s agent, to
go down with him to Stratford-le-Bow to witness its performances. He
carefully examined the engine, and watched it while at work, and the
conclusion he arrived at was, that it was a pretty engine, but much
too complex for practical uses. On leaving the place Smeaton gave the
engineman some money to drink, and he drank so much that next day he let
the engine run quite wild, and it was thrown completely out of order. Mr.
Wilby, the manager, was very wroth at the circumstance. He discharged the
engineman and called upon Hadley to replace the valves, which had been
broken, and make good the other damage that had been done to the engine.
When the repairs were made, everything went satisfactorily as before.

Watt had many annoyances of this sort to encounter, and one of his
greatest difficulties was the incapacity and unsteadiness of his workmen.
Although the original Soho men were among the best of their kind, the
increasing business of the firm necessarily led to the introduction of
a large number of new hands, who represented merely the average workmen
of the day. They were for the most part poor mechanics, very inexpert at
working in metal, and greatly given to drink.[154]

    [154] Fire-engines at work were objects of curiosity in those
      days, and had many visitors. The engineman at the York Buildings
      reminded those who went to see his engine that something was
      expected, placing over the entrance to the engine room the
      following distich:--

        “Whoever wants to see the engine here,
        Must give the engine-man a drop of beer.”

In organising the works at Soho, Boulton and Watt found it necessary
to carry division of labour to the farthest practicable point. There
were no slide-lathes, planing-machines, or boring-tools, such as now
render mechanical accuracy of construction almost a matter of certainty.
Everything depended upon the individual mechanic’s accuracy of hand and
eye; and yet mechanics generally were then much less skilled than they are
now. The way in which Boulton and Watt contrived partially to get over the
difficulty was, to confine their workmen to special classes of work, and
make them as expert in them as possible. By continued practice in handling
the same tools and fabricating the same articles, they thus acquired great
individual proficiency. “Without our tools and our workmen,” said Watt,
“very little could be done.”

But when the men got well trained, the difficulty was to keep them.
Foreign tempters were constantly trying to pick up Boulton and Watt’s men,
and induce them by offers of larger wages to take service abroad. The two
fitters sent up to London to erect the Bow engine were strongly pressed
to go out to Russia.[155] There were also French agents in England at the
same time, who tried to induce certain of Boulton and Watt’s men to go
over to Paris and communicate the secret of making the new engines to M.
Perrier, who had undertaken to pump water from the Seine for the supply
of Paris. The German States also sent over emissaries with a like object,
Baron Stein having been specially commissioned by his Government to master
the secret of Watt’s engine--to obtain working plans of it and bring away
workmen capable of making it,--the first step taken being to obtain access
to the engine-rooms by bribing the workmen.

    [155] “Mr. White told me this morning as a great secret,” wrote
      Boulton’s London agent, “that he has reason to believe that
      Carless and Webb were going beyond sea, for Carless had told him
      he had 1000_l._ offered for six years, and he overheard Webb say
      that he was ready at an hour’s warning.” Carless and Webb were
      immediately ordered back to Soho, and the firm obtained warrants
      for the apprehension of the men as well as of the person who
      had bribed them, if they attempted to abscond “even though,”
      said Watt to Boulton, “Carless be a drunken and comparatively
      useless fellow.” Later he wrote, “I think there is no risk of
      Webb’s leaving us soon, and he offers to re-engage. Carless has
      been working very diligently this week, and is well on with his
      nozzle patterns. I mentioned to William the story of Sir John
      Fielding’s warrant, to show him that we are determined to act
      with spirit in case of interlopers.”--Watt to Boulton, May 3,

Besides the difficulties Boulton and Watt had to encounter in training
and disciplining their own workmen, they had also to deal with the want
of skill on the part of those to whom the working of their engines
was intrusted after they had been delivered and fixed complete. They
occasionally supplied trustworthy men of their own; but they could not
educate mechanics fast enough, and needed all the best men for their own
work. They were therefore compelled to rely on the average mechanics of
the day, the greater part of whom were comparatively unskilled and knew
nothing of the steam-engine. Hence such mishaps as those which befell the
Bow engine, through the engineman getting drunk and reckless, as above
described. To provide for this contingency Watt endeavoured to simplify
the engine as much as possible, so as to bring its working and repair
within the capacity of the average workman.

At a very early period, while experimenting at Kinneil, he had formed the
idea of working steam expansively, and altered his model from time to time
with that object. Boulton had taken up and continued the experiments at
Soho, believing the principle to be sound and that great economy would
attend its adoption. The early engines were accordingly made so that the
steam might be cut off before the piston had made its full stroke, and
expand within the cylinder, the heat outside it being maintained by the
expedient of the steam-case. But it was shortly found that this method of
working was beyond the capacity of the average engineman of that day, and
it was consequently given up for a time.

  “We used to send out,” said Watt to Robert Hart, “a cylinder of
  double the size wanted, and cut off the steam at half stroke. This
  was a great saving of steam so long as the valves remained as at
  first; but when our men left her to the charge of the person who
  was to keep her, he began to make or try to make improvements,
  often by giving more steam. The engine did more work while the
  steam lasted, but the boiler could not keep up the demand. Then
  complaints came of want of steam, and we had to send a man down
  to see what was wrong. This was so expensive that we resolved to
  give up the expansion of the steam until we could get men that
  could work it, as a few tons of coal per year was less expensive
  than having the work stopped. In some of the mines a few hours’
  stoppage was a serious matter, as it would cost the proprietor as
  much as 70_l._ per hour.”[156]

The principle was not, however, abandoned. It was of great value and
importance in an economical point of view, and was again taken up by Watt
and embodied in a more complete form in a subsequent invention. Since his
time, indeed, expansive working has been carried to a much farther extent
than he probably ever dreamt of, and has more than realised the beneficial
results which his sagacious insight so early anticipated.

    [156] Robert Hart’s ‘Reminiscences of James Watt,’ cited above.



The Cornish miners continued baffled by their attempts to get rid of the
water which hindered the working of their mines. The Newcomen engines
had been taxed to the utmost, but were unable to send them deeper into
the ground, and they were accordingly ready to welcome any invention
that promised to relieve them of their difficulty. Among the various new
contrivances for pumping water, that of Watt seemed to offer the greatest
advantages; and if what was alleged of it proved true--that it was of
greater power than the Newcomen engine, while its consumption of fuel was
much less,--then it could not fail to prove of the greatest advantage to
Cornish industry.

Long before Watt’s arrival in Birmingham, the Cornishmen had been in
correspondence with Boulton, making inquiries about the new Scotch
invention, of which they had heard; and Dr. Small, in his letters to
Watt, repeatedly urged him to perfect his engine, with a view to its being
employed in the drainage of the Cornish mines. Now that the engine was at
work in several places, Boulton invited his correspondents in Cornwall
to inquire as to its performances, at Soho, or Bedworth, or Bow, or any
other place where it had been erected. The result of the inquiry and
inspection was satisfactory, and several orders for engines for Cornwall
were received at Soho by the end of 1776. The two first that were ready
for erection were those ordered for Wheal Busy, near Chacewater, and for
Tingtang, near Redruth. The materials for the former were shipped by the
middle of 1777; and, as much would necessarily depend upon the successful
working of the first engines put up in Cornwall, Watt himself went to
superintend their erection in person.


Watt reached his destination after a long and tedious journey over bad
roads. He rode by stage as far as Exeter, and posted the rest of the way.
At Chacewater he found himself in the midst of perhaps the richest mining
district in the world. From thence to Camborne, which lies to the west,
and Gwennap to the south, is a constant succession of mines. The earth
has been burrowed in all directions for many miles in search of ore,
principally copper--the surface presenting an unnaturally blasted and
scarified appearance by reason of the “deads” or refuse run out in heaps
from the mine-heads. Engine-houses and chimneys are the most prominent
features in the landscape, and dot the horizon as far as the eye can

When Watt arrived at Chacewater he found the materials for the Wheal Busy
engine had come to hand, and that some progress had been made with its
erection. The materials for the Tingtang engine, however, had not yet
been received from Soho, and the owners of the mine were becoming very
impatient for it. Watt wrote to his partner urging despatch, otherwise
the engine might be thrown on their hands, especially if the Chacewater
engine, now nearly ready for work, did not give satisfaction. From Watt’s
account, it would appear that the Cornish mines were in a very bad way.
“The Tingtang people,” he said, “are now fairly put out by water, and the
works are quite at a stand.” The other mines in the neighbourhood were
in no better plight. The pumping-engines could not keep down the water.
“Poldice has grown worse than Wheal Virgin was: they have sunk 400_l._ a
month for some months past, and 700_l._ the last month; they will probably
soon give up. North Downs seems to be our next card.”[157] The owners of
the Wheal Virgin mine, though drowned out, like many others, could not
bring their minds to try Watt’s engine. They had no faith in it, and stuck
by the old atmospheric of Newcomen. They accordingly erected an additional
engine of this kind to enable them to go about eight fathoms deeper, “and
they have bought,” wrote Watt, “an old boiler of monstrous size at the
Briggin, which they have offered 50_l._ to get carried to its place.”

    [157] Watt to Boulton, 4th August, 1777.

At Chacewater Watt first met Jonathan Hornblower, son of the Joseph
Hornblower who had come into Cornwall from Staffordshire, some fifty years
before, to erect one of the early Newcomen engines. The son had followed
in his father’s steps, and become celebrated in the Chacewater district
as an engineer. It was natural that he should regard with jealousy the
patentees of the new engine; for if it proved a success, his vocation as
a maker of atmospheric engines would be at an end. Watt thus referred to
him in a letter to Boulton: “Hornblower seems a very pleasant sort of old
Presbyterian: he carries himself very fair, though I hear that he is an
unbelieving Thomas.” His unbelief strongly showed itself on the starting
of the Wheal Busy engine shortly after, when he exclaimed, “Pshaw! it’s
but a bauble: I wouldn’t give twopence halfpenny for her.” There were
others beside Hornblower who disliked and resented what they regarded as
the intrusion of Boulton and Watt in their district, and indeed never
became wholly reconciled to the new engine, though they were compelled
to admit the inefficiency of the old one. Among these was old Bonze, the
engineer, a very clever mechanic, who positively refused to undertake the
erection of the proposed new engine at Wheal Union if Boulton and Watt
were to be in any way concerned with it. But the mine-owners had to study
their own interest rather than the humour of their former engineers, and
Watt secured the order for the Wheal Union engine. Several other orders
were promised, conditional on the performances of the Wheal Busy engine
proving satisfactory. “Ale and Cakes,”[158] wrote Watt, “must wait the
result of Chacewater: several new engines will be erected next year, for
almost all the old mines are exhausted, or have got to the full power of
the present engines, which are clumsy and nasty, the houses cracked, and
everything dropping with water from their cisterns.”[159]

    [158] A mine so-called. Many of the Cornish mines have very odd
      names. “Cook’s Kitchen,” near Camborne, is one of the oldest
      and richest. Another is called “Cupboard.” There are also Wheal
      Fannys and Wheal Abrahams; and Wheal Fortunes and Wheal Virgins
      in great numbers.

    [159] Watt to Boulton, 14th August, 1777.

Watt liked the people as little as he did their engines. He thought them
ungenerous, jealous, and treacherous. “Certainly,” said he, “they have
the most ungracious manners of any people I have ever yet been amongst.”
At the first monthly meeting of the Wheal Virgin adventurers, which he
attended, he found a few gentlemen, but “the bulk of them would not be
disgraced by being classed with Wednesbury colliers.” What annoyed him
most was, that the miners invented and propagated all sorts of rumours
to his prejudice. “We have been accused,” said he, “of working without
leather upon our buckets, and making holes in the clacks in order to
deceive strangers.... I choose to keep out of their company, as every word
spoken by me would be bandied about and misrepresented. I have already
been accused of making several speeches at Wheal Virgin, where, to the
best of my memory, I have only talked about eating, drinking, and the
weather. The greater part of the adventurers at Wheal Virgin are a mean
dirty pack, preying upon one another, and striving who shall impose most
upon the mine.”[160] Watt was of too sensitive and shrinking a nature
to feel himself at home amongst such people. Besides, he was disposed
to be peevish and irritable, easily cast down, and ready to anticipate
the worst. It had been the same with him when employed amongst the rough
labourers on the Monkland Canal, where he had declared himself as ready to
face a loaded cannon as to encounter the altercations of bargain-making.
But Watt must needs reconcile himself to his post as he best could; for
none but himself could see to the proper erection of the Wheal Busy engine
and get it set to work with any chance of success. Meanwhile, the native
engineers were stimulated by his presence, and by the reputed power of
the new engine, to exert themselves in improving the old one. Bonze was
especially active in contriving new boilers and new arrangements, by which
he promised to outstrip all that Watt could possibly accomplish.[161]

    [160] Watt to Boulton, 25th August, 1777. Boulton MSS.

    [161] “I have seen five of Bonze’s engines,” wrote Watt, “but was
      far from seeing the wonders promised. They were 60, 63, and 70
      inch cylinders. At Dalcoath and Wheal Chance they are said to
      use each about 130 bushels of coals in the 24 hours, and to make
      about 6 or 7 strokes per minute, the strokes being under 6 feet
      each. They are burdened to 6, 6½, and 7 lbs. per inch. One of
      the 60 inches threw out about two cubic feet of hot water per
      stroke, heated from 60° to 165°. The 63 inches, with a 5 feet
      stroke, threw out 1½ cubic foot, heated from 60° to 159°,” and
      so on with the others.--Watt to Boulton, 25th August, 1777.
      Boulton MSS.

A letter from Mrs. Watt to Mrs. Boulton, dated Chacewater, September 1st,
1777, throws a little light on Watt’s private life during his stay in
Cornwall. She describes the difficulty they had in obtaining accommodation
on their arrival, “no such thing as a house or lodging to be had for any
money within some miles of the place where the engine was to be erected;”
hence they had been glad to accept of the hospitality of Mr. Wilson, the
superintendent of the mine.

  “I scarcely know what to say to you of the country. The spot we
  are at is the most disagreeable in the whole county. The face of
  the earth is broken up in ten thousand heaps of rubbish, and there
  is scarce a tree to be seen. But don’t think that all Cornwall
  is like Chacewater. I have been at some places that are very
  pleasant, nay beautiful. The sea-coast to me is charming, but not
  easy to be got at. In some cases my poor husband has been obliged
  to mount me behind him to go to some of the places we have been
  at. I assure you I was not a little perplexed at first to be set
  on a great tall horse with a high pillion. At one of our jaunts we
  were only charged twopence a piece for our dinner. You may guess
  what our fare would be from the cost of it; but I assure you I
  never ate a dinner with more relish in my life, nor was I ever
  happier at a feast, than I was that day at Portreath.... One thing
  I _must_ tell you of is, to take care Mr. Boulton’s principles
  are well fixed before you trust him here. Poor Mr. Watt is turned
  Anabaptist, and duly attends their meeting; he is, indeed, and
  goes to chapel most devoutly.”

At last the Chacewater engine was finished and ready for work. Great
curiosity was felt about its performances, and mining men and engineers
came from all quarters to see it start. “All the world are agape,” said
Watt, “to see what it can do.” It would not have displeased some of the
spectators if it had failed. But to their astonishment it succeeded. At
starting, it made eleven eight-feet strokes per minute; and it worked
with greater power, went more steadily, and “forked” more water than
any of the ordinary engines, with only about one-third the consumption
of coal. “We have had many spectators,” wrote Watt, “and several have
already become converts. I understand all the west-country captains are
to be here to-morrow to see the prodigy.”[162] Even Bonze, his rival,
called to see it, and promised not only to read his recantation as soon
as convinced, but never to touch a common engine again. “The velocity,
violence, magnitude, and horrible noise of the engine,” Watt added, “give
universal satisfaction to all beholders, believers or not. I have once
or twice trimmed the engine to end its stroke gently, and to make less
noise; but Mr. Wilson cannot sleep without it seems quite furious, so I
have left it to the engine-men; and, by the by, the noise seems to convey
great ideas of its power to the ignorant, who seem to be no more taken
with modest merit in an engine than in a man.” In a later letter he wrote,
“The voice of the country seems to be at present in our favour; and I hope
will be much more so when the engine gets on its whole load, which will
be by Tuesday next. So soon as that is done, I shall set out for home.”


    [162] Watt to Boulton, 13th September, 1777.

A number of orders for engines had come in at Soho during Watt’s absence;
and it became necessary for him to return there as speedily as possible,
to prepare the plans and drawings, and put the work in hand. There was
no person yet attached to the concern who was capable of relieving him of
this part of his duties; while Boulton was fully occupied with conducting
the commercial part of the business. By the end of autumn he was again
at home; and for a week after his return he kept so close to his desk in
his house on Harper’s Hill, that he could not even find time enough to
go out to Soho and see what had been doing in his absence. At length he
felt so exhausted by the brain-work and confinement that he wrote to his
partner, “a very little more of this hurrying and vexation will knock me
up altogether.” To add to his troubles, letters arrived from Tingtang,
urging his return to Cornwall, to erect the engine, the materials for
which had at last arrived. “I fancy,” said Watt, “that I must be cut in
pieces, and a portion sent to every tribe in Israel.”

After four month’s labour of this sort, during which seven out of the
ten engines then in hand were finished and erected, and the others
well advanced, Watt again set out for Cornwall, which he reached by
the beginning of June, 1778. He took up his residence at Redruth, as
being more convenient for Tingtang than Chacewater, hiring a house at
Plengwarry, a hamlet on the outskirts of the town. Redruth is the capital
of the mining districts of Camborne, Redruth, and Gwennap. It is an
ancient town, consisting for the most part of a long street, which runs
down one hill and up another.

All round it the country seems to have been disembowelled; and heaps of
scoriæ, “deads,” rubbish, and granite blocks cover the surface. The view
from the lofty eminence of Carn Brea, a little to the south of Redruth,
strikingly shows the scarified and apparently blasted character of the
district, and affords a prospect the like of which is rarely to be seen.


[By R. P. Leitch.]]

On making inquiry as to the materials which had arrived during his
absence, Watt was much mortified to find that the Soho workmen had made
many mistakes. “Forbes’s eduction-pipe,” he wrote, “is a most vile job,
and full of holes. The cylinder they have cast for Chacewater is still
worse, for it will hardly do at all. The Soho people have sent here
Chacewater eduction-pipe instead of Wheal Union; and the gudgeon pipe has
not arrived with the nozzles. These repeated disappointments,” said he,
“will undoubtedly ruin our credit in the country; and I cannot stay here
to bear the shame of such failures of promise.”

Watt had a hard time of it while in Cornwall, what with riding and walking
from mine to mine, listening to complaints of delay in the arrival of
the engines from Soho, and detecting and remedying the blunders and bad
workmanship of his mechanics. Added to which, everybody was low-spirited
and almost in despair at the bad times,--ores falling in price, mines
filled with water, engine-men standing idle, and adventurers bemoaning
their losses. Another source of anxiety was the serious pecuniary
embarrassments in which the Soho firm had become involved. Boulton had
so many concerns going that a vast capital was required for the purpose
of meeting current engagements; and the engine business, instead of
relieving him, had hitherto only proved a source of additional outlay, and
increased his difficulties at a time of general commercial depression. He
wrote Watt, urging him to send remittances for the Cornish engines; but
the materials, though partly delivered, were not erected; and the miners
demurred to paying on account until they were fixed complete and at work.
Boulton then suggested to Watt that he should try to obtain an advance
from the Truro bankers, on security of the engine materials. “No,” replied
Watt, “that cannot be done, as the knowledge of our difficulties would
damage our position in Cornwall, and hurt our credit. Besides,” said he,
“no one can be more cautious than a Cornish banker; and the principal of
the firm you name is himself exceedingly distressed for money.”[163] Nor
was there the least chance, in Watt’s opinion, even if they had the money
to advance, of their accepting any security that Boulton and Watt had to
offer. “Such is the nature of the people here,” said he, “and so little
faith have they in our engine, that very few of them believe it to be
materially better than the ordinary one, and so far as I can judge, no one
I have conversed with would advance us 500_l._ on a mortgage of it.”[164]

    [163] Watt to Boulton, 2nd July, 1778. Boulton MSS.

    [164] Watt to Boulton, 8th July, 1778, Boulton MSS.

All that Watt could do was to recommend that the evil day should be
staved off as long as possible, or at all events until the large engines
he was then erecting were at work, when he believed their performances
would effect a complete change in the views of the adventurers. The
only suggestion he could offer was to invite John Wilkinson, or some
other moneyed man, to join them as partner and relieve them of their
difficulties; for “rather than founder at sea,” said he, “we had better
run ashore.”[165] Meanwhile, he urged Boulton to apply the pruning-knife
and cut down expenses, assuring him that he himself was practising all the
frugality in his power. But as Watt’s personal expenses at the time did
not amount to 2_l._ a week, it is clear that any savings he could effect,
however justifiable and laudable, were but a drop in the ocean compared
with the liabilities to be met, and which must be provided without delay
to avoid insolvency and ruin.

    [165] Watt to Boulton, 8th July, 1778. Boulton MSS.

Fothergill, Boulton’s other partner, was even more desponding than Watt.
When Boulton left Soho on his journeys to raise ways and means, Fothergill
pursued him with dolorous letters, telling him of mails that had arrived
without remittances, of bills that must be met, of wages that must be paid
on Saturday night, and of the impending bankruptcy of the firm, which
he again and again declared to be “inevitable.” “Better stop payment at
once,” said he, “call our creditors together, and face the worst, than
go on in this neck-and-neck race with ruin.” Boulton would hurry back to
Soho, to quiet Fothergill, and keep the concern going; on which another
series of letters would pour in upon him from Mr. Matthews, the London
financial agent, pressing for remittances, and reporting the increasingly
gloomy and desperate state of affairs.

Boulton himself was, as usual, equal to the occasion. His courage and
determination rose in proportion to the difficulties to be overcome. He
was borne up by his invincible hope, by his unswerving purpose, and above
all by his unshaken belief in the commercial value of the condensing
engine. If they could only weather the storm until its working powers
could be fully demonstrated, all would yet be well.

In illustration of his hopefulness, we may mention that in the midst
of his troubles a fire took place in the engine-room at Soho, which was
happily extinguished, but not before it had destroyed the roof and done
serious damage to the engine, which was brought to a standstill. Boulton
had long been desirous of rebuilding the engine-house in a proper manner,
but had been hindered by Watt, who was satisfied with alterations merely
sufficient to accommodate the place to the changes made from time to time
in the engine which he called “Beelzebub.”[166] On hearing of the damage
done by the fire, Boulton, instead of lamenting over it, exclaimed, “_Now_
I shall be able at last to have the engine-house built as it should be.”

    [166] While in Cornwall in the previous year, Watt wrote long
      letters to his partner as to certain experimental alterations
      of “Beelzebub.” This was the original engine brought from
      Kinneil, which continued to be the subject of constant changes.
      “I send a drawing,” he wrote on the 4th August, 1777, “of the
      best scheme I can at present devise for equalising the power
      of Beelzebub, and obliging him to save part of his youthful
      strength to help him forward in his old age.... As the head of
      one of the levers will rise higher than the roof, a hole must
      be cut for it, which may after trial be covered over. If the
      new beam answer to be centred upon the end wall and to go out
      at a window, it will make the execution easy.... I long (he
      concluded) to have some particulars of Beelzebub’s doings, and
      to learn whether he has got on his jockey coat yet [_i. e._ an
      outer cylinder], for till that be done, you can form no idea
      of his perfection.” The engine continued to be the subject of
      repeated alterations, and was renewed, as Watt observed, like
      the Highlandman’s gun, in stock, lock, and barrel. After the
      occurrence of the above fire, we learn from Watt’s MS. Memoir of
      Boulton, that “Beelzebub” was replaced by a larger engine, the
      first on the expansive principle, afterwards known by the name
      of “Old Bess.” This engine continued in its place long after
      the career of Boulton and Watt had come to an end; and in the
      year 1857, the present writer saw “Old Bess” working as steadily
      as ever, though eighty years had passed over her head. The old
      engine has since found an honourable asylum in the Museum of
      Patents at South Kensington.

After many negotiations, Boulton at length succeeded in raising a sum of
7000_l._ by granting a Mr. Wiss security for the payment of an annuity,
while the London bankers, Lowe, Vere, and Williams, allowed an advance
of 14,000_l._ on security of a mortgage granted by Boulton and Watt on
the royalties derived from the engine patent, and of all their rights and
privileges therein. Though the credit of the house was thus saved, the
liabilities of Boulton and his partners continued to press heavily upon
them for a long time to come. Meanwhile, however, a gleam of light came
from Cornwall. Watt sent the good news to Soho that “both Chacewater and
Tingtang engines go on exceedingly well, and give great satisfaction.
Chacewater goes 14 strokes of 9 foot long per minute, and burns about 128
bushels per 24 hours. The water has sunk 12 fathoms in the mine, and the
engine will fork [_i. e._ pump out] the first lift this night. No cross
nor accident of any note has happened, except the bursting of a pump
at Tingtang, which was soon repaired.” Four days later Watt wrote, “The
engines are both going very well, and Chacewater has got the water down
18½ fathoms; but after this depth it must make slower progress, as a very
large house of water begins there, and the feeders grow stronger as we go

    [167] Watt to Boulton, 8th August, 1778. Boulton MSS.

Watt looked upon the Chacewater trial as the _experimentum crucis_,
and continued to keep his partner duly informed of every circumstance
connected with it. “They say,” he wrote, “that if the new engine can fork
the water from Chacewater, it can fork anything, as that is the heaviest
to fork in the whole county.” On the 15th of August he wrote, “Chacewater
is now down to 10 fathoms of the second lift, and works steady and well;
it sinks 9 feet per day. Chacewater people in high spirits: Captain
Mayor furiously in love with the engine.” On the 29th he wrote again,
“Chacewater engine is our capital card, for should it succeed in forking
this mine all doubts will then be removed.” The adventurers of the great
Poldice mine watched the operations at Chacewater with much interest. Two
common engines, pumping night and day for months, had failed to clear
their mine of water; and now they thought of ordering one of the new
engines to take their place; “but all this,” said Watt, “depends on the
success of Chacewater, which God protect: it is now down 31½ fathoms, and
will be in fork of this lift to-morrow, when it is to be put down three
fathoms lower, and fixed there.” On the 17th he wrote, “I have been at
Chacewater to-day, where they are in fork of the second lift 34½ fathoms.
The great connexion-rod still unbalanced. The engine went yesterday 14
strokes per minute. To-morrow I go to Wheal Union, and on Saturday to
Truro, to meet Poldice adventurers.... By attending to the business of
this county alone,” said he, “we may at least live comfortably; for I
cannot suppose that less than twelve engines will be wanted in two or
three years, but after that very few more, as these will be sufficient
to get ore enough; though you cannot reckon the average profits to us at
above 200_l._ per engine.”

When Boulton and Watt first started the manufacture of steam-engines,
they were mainly concerned to get orders, and were not very particular as
to the terms on which they were obtained. But when the orders increased,
and the merits of the invention gradually became recognised, they found
it necessary to require preliminary agreements to be entered into as to
the terms on which the patent was to be used. It occurred to them, that
as one of its principal merits consisted in the saving of fuel, it would
be a fair arrangement to take one-third of the value of such saving by
way of royalty, leaving the owners of the engines to take the benefit
of the remaining two-thirds. Nothing could be fairer than the spirit of
this arrangement, which, it will be seen, was of even more advantage to
the owners of the engines than to the patentees themselves. The first
Cornish engines were, however, erected without any condition as to terms;
and it was only after they had proved their power by “forking” the water,
and sending the miners twenty fathoms deeper into the ground, that the
question of terms was raised. Watt proposed that agreements should be
entered into on the basis above indicated. But the Cornish men did not see
the use of agreements. They had paid for the engines, which were theirs,
and Boulton and Watt could not take them away. Here was the beginning of
a long series of altercations, which ended only with the patent right
itself. The miners could not do without the engine. It was admitted to
be of immense value to them, rendering many of their mines workable that
would otherwise have been valueless. But why should they have to pay
for the use of such an invention? This was what they never could clearly

To prevent misunderstandings in future, Watt wrote to Boulton,
recommending that no further orders for engines should be taken unless the
terms for using them were definitely settled beforehand. “You must excuse
me,” he added, “when I tell you that, for my part, I will not put pen to
paper [_i. e._ make the requisite drawings] on a new subject until that is
done. Until an engine is ordered, our power is greater than that of the
Lord Chancellor; as I believe even he cannot compel us to make it unless
we choose. Let our terms be moderate, and, if possible, consolidated into
money _à priori_, and it is certain we shall get _some_ money, enough
to keep us out of jail, in continual apprehension of which I live at

    [168] Watt to Boulton, 29th August, 1778. Later, Watt wrote from
      Redruth, “Captain Paul desires me to attend at Wheal Virgin
      meeting on Thursday, where several Tingtang people will be;
      but I shall only write, as I know they will be just in the
      worst of humours about Wheal Virgin affairs, and they are
      very disagreeable at the best. Every article must be settled
      and sealed with Cornish adventures before we begin, otherwise
      never.... Do not let Chelsea begin until signed and sealed. I
      hope you will not take amiss my writing so positively on this
      subject of agreements; but really my faith in mankind will carry
      me no further, and if I can’t get money, I’m resolved to save
      my bacon and to live in hunger and ease. As it is, we don’t get
      such a share of reputation as our works deserve, for every man
      who cheats us defames us in order to justify himself.”--Watt to
      Boulton, 6th September, 1778. Boulton MSS.

To meet the case, a form of agreement was drawn up and required to be
executed before any future engine was commenced. It usually provided that
an engine of certain given dimensions and power was to be erected at the
expense of the owners of the mine; and that the patentees were to take as
their recompense for the use of their invention, one-third of the value of
the fuel saved by it compared with the consumption of the ordinary engine.
It came to be understood that the saving of fuel was to be estimated
according to the number of strokes made. To ascertain this, Watt contrived
an ingenious piece of clockwork, termed the Counter, which, being attached
to the main beam, accurately marked and registered, under lock and key,
the number of its vibrations. Thus the work done was calculated, and the
comparative saving of fuel was ascertained.

Though the Cornish miners had been full of doubts as to the successful
working of Watt’s engine, they could not dispute the evidence of their
senses after it had been erected and was fairly at work. There it was,
“forking water” as never engine before had been known to “fork.” It had
completely mastered the water at Wheal Busy; and if it could send the
workmen down that mine, it could in like manner send them down elsewhere.
Wheal Virgin was on the point of stopping work, in which case some two
thousand persons would be thrown out of bread. Bonze’s new atmospheric
engine had proved a failure, and the mine continued flooded. It had also
failed at Poldice, which was drowned out. “Notwithstanding the violence
and prejudice against us,” wrote Watt, “nothing can save the mines but our
engines.... _Even the infidels of Dalcoath_ are now obliquely inquiring
after our terms! Cook’s Kitchen, which communicates with it, has been
drowned out some time.” Watt, accordingly, had many applications about
engines; and on that account he entreated his partner to come to his
help. He continued to hate all negotiating about terms, and it did not
seem as if he would ever learn to like it. He had neither the patience
to endure, nor the business tact to conduct a negotiation. He wanted
confidence in himself, and did not feel equal to make a bargain. He would
almost as soon have wrestled with the Cornish miners as higgled with
them. They were shrewd, practical men, rough in manner and speech, yet
honest withal;[169] but Watt would not encounter them when he could avoid
it. Hence his repeated calls to Boulton to come and help him. Writing
to him about the proposed Wheal Virgin engine, he said, “Before I make
any bargain with these people, I must have you here.” A few days after,
when communicating the probability of obtaining an order for the Poldice
engine, he wrote,--“I wish you would dispose yourself for a journey here,
and strike while this iron is hot.” A fortnight later he said, “Poldice
people are now welding hot, and must not be suffered to cool. They are
exceedingly impatient, as they lose 150_l._ a month until our engine
is going.... I hope this will find you ready to come away. At Redruth,
inquire for Plengwarry Green, where you will find me.”

    [169] “With all the faults of the Cornish people, I think we have
      a better chance for tolerable honesty here than elsewhere, as,
      their meetings being public, they will not choose to expose
      themselves any further than strict dealing may justify; and
      besides, there are generally too many to cabal.”--Watt to
      Boulton, 29th August, 1778. Boulton MSS.

Boulton must have been greatly harassed by the woes of his partners.
Fothergill was still uttering lamentable prophecies of impending ruin;
his only prospect of relief being in the success of the engine. He urged
Boulton to endeavour to raise money by the sale of engine contracts or
annuities, in order to avert a crash. Matthews, the London agent, also
continued to represent the still urgent danger of the house, and pressed
Boulton to go to Cornwall and try to raise money there upon his engine
contracts. Indeed, it was clear that the firm of Boulton and Fothergill
had been losing money by their business for several years past; and
that, unless the engine succeeded, they must, ere long, go to the wall.
But when Boulton turned to Cornwall, he found little comfort. Though the
engines there were successful, Watt could not raise money upon them. The
adventurers were poor,--were for the most part losing by their ventures,
in consequence of the low price of the ore; and they almost invariably put
off payment by excuses. Thus, while Boulton was in London trying to obtain
accommodation from his bankers, the groans of his partner in Birmingham
were more than re-echoed by the lamentations of his other partner in
Cornwall, who rang the changes of misery through all the notes of the

At length, about the beginning of October, 1778, Boulton contrived to
make his long-promised journey into Cornwall.[170] He went round among
the mines, and had many friendly conferences with the managers. He found
the engine had grown in public favour, and that the impression prevailed
throughout the mining districts that it would before long become generally
adopted. Encouraged by his London financial agent, he took steps to turn
this favourable impression to account.[171] Before he left Cornwall, where
he remained until the end of the year, he succeeded in borrowing a sum
of 2000_l._ from Elliot and Praed, the Truro bankers, on security of the
engines erected in the county; and the money was at once forwarded to the
London agents for the relief of the Birmingham firm. He also succeeded
in getting the terms definitely arranged for the use of several of the
more important engines erected and at work. It was agreed that 700_l._ a
year should be paid as royalty in respect of the Chacewater engine,--an
arrangement even more advantageous to the owners of the mine than to
the patentees, as it was understood that the saving of coals amounted to
upwards of 2400_l._ a year. Other agreements were entered into for the
use of the engines erected at Wheal Union and Tingtang, which brought in
about 400_l._ per annum more, so that the harvest of profits seemed at
length fairly begun.

    [170] During his absence Mr. Keir took charge of the works at
      Soho. It had been intended to introduce him as a partner, and
      he left the glass-making concern at Stourbridge, into which he
      had entered, for the purpose; but when he came to look into the
      books of the Soho firm, he was so appalled by their liabilities
      that he eventually declined the connexion.

    [171] Matthews wrote him on the 8th October, 1778, that he had met
      a Mr. Boldero at the Goldsmiths’ Hall, who had much influence in
      Cornwall, and that he expressed the opinion that, if the engines
      could do what Boulton and Watt promised, they might soon get
      from 40,000_l._ to 80,000_l._ for them in Cornwall. Matthews
      accordingly recommended Boulton to apply to Elliot and Praed,
      the Cornish bankers, for an advance on security of the engine
      contracts.--It would appear from a letter written to Boulton a
      few days later, by Mr. Barton, Matthews’s partner, that Boulton
      was, amidst his many speculations, engaged in a privateering
      adventure during the war of the American Revolution:--“It may
      give you some pleasure,” wrote Barton, “to hear we are likely
      to receive some produce from our adventure to New York. One
      of the vessels our little brig took last year was fitted out
      at New York, and in a cruise of 13 weeks has taken 13 prizes,
      12 of which are carried safe in, and we have advice of 200
      hogsheads of tobacco being shipped as part of the prizes, which,
      if now here, would fetch us 10,000_l._ But while the embargo on
      shipping at New York continues, they cannot stir out of port.
      However, _I think we shall see them before you raise that sum
      from your engine concern, and yet I hope that is not very far

Watt remained at Cornwall for another month, plodding at Poldice and
Wheal Virgin engines, and returned to Birmingham early in January, 1779.
Though the pumping-engine had thus far proved remarkably successful, and
accomplished all that Watt had promised, he was in no better spirits than
before. “Though we have, in general, succeeded in our undertakings,”
he wrote Dr. Black, “yet that success has, from various unavoidable
circumstances, produced small profits to us; the struggles we have
had with natural difficulties, and with the ignorance, prejudices, and
villanies of mankind, have been very great, but I hope are now nearly
come to an end, or vanquished.”[172] His difficulties were not, however,
nearly at an end, as the heavy liabilities of the firm had still to be
met. More money had to be borrowed; and Watt continued to groan under his
intolerable burden. “The thought of the debt to Lowe, Vere, and Co.,” he
wrote to his partner, “lies too heavy on my mind to leave me the proper
employment of my faculties in the prosecution of our business; and,
besides, common honesty will prevent me from loading the scheme with debts
which might be more than it could pay.”[173]

    [172] Watt to Black, 12th December, 1778.

    [173] Watt to Boulton, 15th Jan., 1779.

A more hopeful man would have borne up under these difficulties; for the
reputation of the engine was increasing, and orders were coming in from
various quarters. Soho was full of work; and, provided their credit could
be maintained, it was clear that the undertaking on which the firm had
entered could not fail to prove remunerative. Watt could not see this,
but his partner did; and Boulton accordingly strained every nerve to
keep up the character of the concern. While Watt was urging upon him to
curtail the business, Boulton sought in all ways to extend it. He sent
accounts of his marvellous engines abroad, and orders for them came in
from France[174] and Holland. Watt was more alarmed than gratified by the
foreign orders, fearing that the engine would be copied and extensively
manufactured abroad, where patents had not yet been secured. He did not
see that the best protection of all was in the superiority of his tools
and mechanics, enabling first-class work to be turned out,--important
advantages, in which the Soho firm had the start of the world. It
is true his mechanics were liable to be bribed, and foreigners were
constantly haunting Soho for the purpose of worming out the secrets of the
manufacture, and decoying away the best men. Against this every precaution
was taken, though sometimes in vain. Two Prussian engineers came over from
Berlin in 1779, to whom Watt showed every attention; after which, in his
absence, they got into the engine-room, and carefully examined all the
details of “Old Bess,” making notes. When Watt returned, he was in high
dudgeon, and wrote to his partner that he “could not help it unless by
discountenancing every foreigner who does not come avowedly to have an

    [174] M. Perrier, of Paris, ordered an engine early in 1779, and
      the materials were despatched to Nantes by the end of May in
      the same year. The engine was erected by M. Jary at a colliery
      near Nantes, but the fitting was so bad--the steam-case having
      been forgotten--that it went only four strokes per minute. As
      Boulton and Watt sought a patent for France, it was necessary
      in the first place that Commissioners should certify that the
      new engine was superior to the common engine. This they could
      not do, and the patent was not secured. Watt feared that there
      was “a plot” against him; as Perrier immediately proceeded with
      a manufacture of steam-engines after the alleged invention of
      M. Betancourt, though this “invention” turned out to be a close
      copy of the engine M. Betancourt himself had imported from Soho.

Their principal reliance, however, was necessarily on home orders, and
these came in satisfactorily. Eight more engines were wanted for Cornwall,
those already at work continuing to give satisfaction. Inquiries were
also made about pumping engines for collieries in different parts of
England. But where coals were cheap, and the saving of fuel was of less
consequence, the patentees were not solicitous for orders unless the
purchasers would fix a fair sum for the patent right, or rate the coals
used at a price that would be remunerative in proportion to the savings
effected. The orders were, indeed, becoming so numerous, that the firm,
beginning to feel their power, themselves fixed the annual royalty, though
it was not always so easy to get it paid.

    [175] Watt to Boulton, 27th January, 1779. Boulton MSS.

The working power of Watt himself was but limited. He still continued to
suffer from intense headaches; and, as all the drawings of new engines
were made by his own hands, it was necessary in some measure to limit
the amount of work undertaken. “I beg,” he wrote to his partner in May,
1779, relative to proposals made for two new engines, “that you will
not undertake to do anything for them before Christmas. It is, in fact,
impossible, at least on my part; I am quite crushed.” But he was not
always so dispirited, for in the following month we find him writing
Boulton an exultant letter, announcing orders for three new engines from

    [176] The following is Watt’s letter, written in a very unusual

                             “Birmingham, June 30th, 1779.
            “Hallelujah! Hallelujee!
          We have concluded with Hawkesbury,
          217_l._ per annum from Lady-day last;
          275_l._ 5_s._ for time past; 157_l._ on account.
          We make them a present of 100 guineas--
          Peace and good-fellowship on earth--
          Perrins and Evans to be dismissed--
          3 more engines wanted in Cornwall--
          Dudley repentant and amendant--

                                          Yours rejoicing,
                                              JAMES WATT.”

Watt continued for some time longer to suffer great annoyance from the
shortcomings of his workmen. He was himself most particular in giving
his instructions, verbally, in writing, and in drawings. When he sent
a workman to erect an engine, he sent with him a carefully drawn up
detail of the step by step proceedings he was to adopt in fitting the
parts together. Where there was a difficulty, and likely to be a hitch,
he added a pen and ink drawing, rapid but graphic, and pointed out how
the difficulty was to be avoided. It was not so easy, however, to find
workmen capable of intelligently fitting together the parts of a machine
so complicated and of so novel a construction. Moreover, the first engines
were in a great measure experimental, and to have erected them perfectly,
and provided by anticipation for their various defects, would have argued
a knowledge of the principles of their construction almost as complete as
that of Watt himself. He was not sufficiently disposed to make allowances
for the workmen’s want of knowledge and want of experience, and his
letters were accordingly full of complaints of their shortcomings. He was
especially annoyed with the mistakes of a foreman, named Hall, who had
sent the wrong articles to Cornwall, and he urged Boulton to dismiss him
at once. But Boulton knew better. Though Watt understood engines, he did
not so well understand men. Had Boulton dismissed such as Hall because
they made mistakes, the shop would soon have been empty. The men were as
yet but at school, learning experience, and Boulton knew that in course
of time they would acquire dexterity. He was ready to make allowance
for their imperfections, but at the same time he did not abate in his
endeavours to find out and engage the best hands, wherever they were to be
found--in Wales, in Cornwall, or in Scotland. He therefore kept on Hall,
notwithstanding Watt’s protest, and the latter submitted.[177]

    [177] Watt wrote Boulton, 2nd July, 1778,--“On the subject of Mr.
      Hall I should not have been so earnest had I not been urged on
      by the prospect of impending ruin, which may be much accelerated
      by a wicked or careless servant in his place.” Later, on the 6th
      August, Watt wrote, “I look upon Hall as a very great blunderer,
      and very inattentive to everything that has hitherto been
      committed to his care; but I think that our present necessities
      will oblige us to employ him.”--Boulton MSS.

Watt was equally wroth with the enginemen at Bedworth. “I beg and expect,”
he wrote Boulton, “that so soon as everything is done to that engine,
you will instantly proceed to trial before creditable witnesses, and if
possible have the whole brood of these enginemen displaced, if any others
can be procured; for nothing but slovenliness, if not malice, is to be
expected of them.” It must, however, be acknowledged that the Bedworth
engine was at first very imperfect, having been made of bad iron, in
consequence of which it frequently broke down. In Cornwall the men were
no better. Dudley, Watt’s erector at Wheal Chance and Hallamanin, was
pronounced incapable and a blunderer. “If something be not very bad in
London, I wish you would employ Hadley to finish those engines, and send
Joseph here to receive his instructions and proceed to Cornwall, otherwise
Dudley will ruin us.”[178]

The trusty “Joseph” was accordingly despatched to Cornwall to look after
Dudley, and remedy the defects in Wheal Chance and Hallamanin engines; but
when Watt arrived at Chacewater shortly after, he found that Joseph, too,
had proved faithless. He wrote to Boulton, “Joseph has pursued his old
practice of drinking in the neighbourhood in a scandalous manner, until
the very enginemen turned him into ridicule.... I have not heard how he
behaved in the west; but that he gave the ale there a bad character.”[179]
Notwithstanding, however, his love of strong potations, Joseph was
a first-rate workman. Two days later, Watt wrote, “Though Joseph has
attended to his drinking, he has done much good at his leisure hours,
and has certainly prevented much mischief at Hallamanin and some at Wheal
Union. He has had some hard and long jobs, and consequently merits some
indulgence for his foibles.” By the end of the month “Joseph had conquered
Hallamanin engine, all but the boiler,” but Watt added, “His indulgence
has brought on a slight fit of the jaundice, and as soon as the engine is
finished, he must be sent home.”[180]

    [178] Watt to Boulton, 11th August, 1779.

    [179] Watt to Boulton, 4th October, 1779.

    [180] Watt to Boulton, 28th October, 1779.

By this time Watt had called to his aid two other skilled workmen, Law and
Murdock, who arrived in Cornwall in the beginning of September, 1779. In
Watt’s letters we find frequent allusions to Murdock. Wherever any work
had to be done requiring more than ordinary attention, Watt specially
directed that “William” should be put to it. “Let William be sent for
from Bedworth,” he wrote from Cornwall in 1778, “to set the patterns for
nozzles quite right for Poldice.” Boulton wished to send him into Scotland
to erect the engine at Wenlockhead, but Watt would not hear of it.
“William” was the only man he could trust with the nozzles. Then William
was sent to London to take the charge of Chelsea engine; next to Bedworth,
to see to the completion of the repairs previous to the final trial; then
to Birmingham again to attend to some further special instructions of
Watt; and now we find him in Cornwall, to take charge of the principal
engines erecting there.

William Murdock was not only a most excellent and steady workman, but
a man of eminent mechanical genius. He was the first maker of a model
locomotive in this country; he was the introducer of lighting by gas, and
the inventor of many valuable parts of the working steam-engine, hereafter
to be described. His father was a millwright and miller, at Bellow Mill,
near Old Cumnock, in Ayrshire, and was much esteemed for his probity and
industry, as well as for his mechanical skill. He was the inventor of
bevelled cast-iron gear for mills, and his son was proud to exhibit, on
the lawn in front of his house at Sycamore Hill, Handsworth, a piece of
the first work of the kind executed in Britain. It was cast for him at
Carron Ironworks, after the pattern furnished by him, in 1766. William
was born in 1754, and brought up to his father’s trade. On arriving at
manhood, he became desirous of obtaining a larger experience of mill-work
and mechanics than he could acquire in his father’s little mill. Hearing
of the fame of Boulton and Watt, and the success of their new engine, he
determined to travel south, and seek for a job at Soho. Many Scotchmen
were accustomed to call there on the same errand, probably relying on the
known clanship of their countrymen, and thinking that they would find
a friend and advocate in Watt. But strange to say, Watt did not think
Scotchmen capable of becoming first-class mechanics.[181]

    [181] Watt told Sir Walter Scott that though hundreds probably
      of his northern countrymen had sought employment at his
      establishment, he never could get one of them to become a
      first-rate mechanic. “Many of them,” said he, “were too good
      for that, and rose to be valuable clerks and bookkeepers;
      but those incapable of this sort of advancement had always
      the same insuperable aversion to toiling so long at any one
      point of mechanism as to gain the highest wages among the
      workmen.”--Note to Lockhart’s ‘Life of Scott.’ The fact, we
      suppose was, that the Scotch mechanics were only as yet in
      course of training,--the English having had a long start of
      them. Though Watt’s statement that Scotchmen were incapable of
      being first-class mechanics may have been true in his day, it
      is so no longer, as the workshops of the Clyde can prove; some
      of the most highly finished steam-engines of modern times having
      been turned out of Glasgow workshops.

When Murdock called at Soho, in the year 1777, to ask for a job, Watt was
from home, but he saw Boulton, who was usually accessible to callers of
every rank. In answer to Murdock’s inquiry whether he could have a job,
Boulton replied that work was rather slack with them then, and that every
place was filled up. During the brief conversation that ensued, the blate
young Scotchman, like most country lads in the presence of strangers, had
some difficulty in knowing what to do with his hands, and unconsciously
kept twirling his hat with them. Boulton’s attention was directed to the
twirling hat, which seemed to be of a peculiar make. It was not a felt
hat, nor a cloth hat, nor a glazed hat; but it seemed to be painted, and
composed of some unusual material. “That seems to be a curious sort of
hat,” said Boulton, looking at it more closely; “why, what is it made
of?” “Timmer, sir,” said Murdock, modestly. “Timmer! Do you mean to say
that it is made of wood?” “Yes, sir.” “Pray, _how_ was it made?” “I turned
it mysel’, sir, in a bit lathey of my own making.” Boulton looked at the
young man again. He had risen a hundred degrees in his estimation. He was
tall, good-looking, and of open and ingenuous countenance; and that he had
been able to turn a wooden hat for himself in a lathe of his own making
was proof enough that he was a mechanic of no mean skill. “You may call
again, my man,” said Boulton. “Thank you, sir,” said Murdock, giving his
hat a final twirl.

When Murdock called again, he was at once put upon a trial job,
after which he was entered as a regular hand. We learn from Boulton’s
memorandum-book that he was engaged for two years, at 15_s._ a week when
at home, 17_s._ when from home, and 18_s._ when in London. Boulton’s
engagement of Murdock was amply justified by the result. Beginning as a
common mechanic, he applied himself diligently and conscientiously to his
work, and became trusted. More responsible duties were confided to him,
and he strove to perform them to the best of his power. His industry and
his skilfulness soon marked him for promotion, and he rose from grade
to grade until he became Boulton and Watt’s most trusted co-worker and
adviser in all their mechanical undertakings of importance.

When Murdock went into Cornwall to take charge of the engines, he gave
himself no rest until he had conquered their defects and put them in
thorough working order. He devoted himself to his duties with a zeal and
ability that completely won Watt’s heart. He was so filled with his work,
that when he had an important job in hand, he could scarcely sleep at
nights for thinking of it. When the engine at Wheal Union was ready for
starting, the people of the house at Redruth, in which Murdock lodged,
were greatly disturbed one night by a strange noise in his room. Several
heavy blows on the floor made them start from their beds, thinking the
house was coming down. They rushed to Murdock’s room, and there was he
in his shirt, heaving away at the bedpost in his sleep, calling out, “Now
she goes, lads! now she goes.”

Murdock was not less successful in making his way with the Cornishmen
with whom he was brought into daily contact; indeed, he fought his way
to their affections. One day at Chacewater, some half-dozen of the mining
captains came into the engine-room and began bullying him. This he could
not stand, and adopted a bold expedient. He locked the door, and said,
“Now, then, you shall not leave this place until I have it fairly out with
you.” He selected the biggest, and put himself in a fighting attitude.
The Cornishmen love fair play, and while the two engaged in battle, the
others, without interfering, looked on. The contest was soon over; for
Murdock was a tall, powerful fellow, and speedily vanquished his opponent.
The others, seeing the kind of man they had to deal with, made overtures
of reconciliation; and they shook hands all round, and parted the best of

    [182] The above anecdotes, of Murdock’s introduction to Soho,
      and the fight with the captains, were communicated by his
      son, the late Mr. Murdock of Sycamore Hill near Birmingham.
      He also informed us that Murdock fought a duel with Captain
      Trevithick (father of the Trevithick of Locomotive celebrity),
      in consequence of a quarrel between him and Watt, in which
      Murdock conceived his master to have been unfairly and harshly

Watt continued to have his differences and altercations with the
Cornishmen, but he had no such way of settling them. Indeed, he was
almost helpless when he came in contact with rough men of business. Most
of the mines were then paying very badly, and the adventurers raised all
sorts of objections to making the stipulated payment of the engine dues.
Under such circumstances, altercations with them took place for which
Watt was altogether unprepared. He was under the apprehension that they
were constantly laying their heads together for the purpose of taking
advantage of him and his partner. He never looked on the bright side
of things, but always on the darkest. “The rascality of mankind,” said
he to Dr. Black, “is almost beyond belief.” Though his views of science
were large, his views of men were narrow. Much of this may have been the
result of his recluse habits and closet life, as well as of his constant
ill-health. With his racking headaches, it was indeed difficult for him
to be cheerful. But no one could be more conscious of his own defects--of
his want of tact, his want of business qualities, and his want of
temper--than he was himself. He knew his besetting infirmities, from which
even the best and wisest are not exempt. His greatness was mingled with
imperfections, and his strength with weakness, else had he been more than
human. It is not in the order of Providence that the gifts and graces of
life should be concentrated in any one perfectly adjusted character. Even
when we inquire into the “Admirable Crichton” of biography, and seek to
trace his life, it vanishes almost into a myth.

In the midst of his many troubles and difficulties, Watt’s invariable
practice was to call upon Boulton for help. Boulton was satisfied to take
men as he found them, and try to make the best of them. Watt was a man of
the study; Boulton a man of the world. Watt was a master of machines; but
Boulton, of men. Though Watt might be the brain, Boulton was the heart
of the concern. “If you had been here,” wrote Watt to Boulton, after one
of his disagreeable meetings with the adventurers, “If you had been here,
and gone to that meeting with your cheerful countenance and brave heart,
perhaps they would not have been so obstinate.” The scene referred to by
Watt occurred at a meeting of the Wheal Union Adventurers, at which the
savings effected by the new engine were to be calculated and settled. Here
is Watt’s own description of the affair, and his feelings on the occasion,
which will give a good idea of the irksomeness of his position, and the
disagreeable people he had occasionally to encounter:--

  “At Wheal Union account our savings were ordered to be charged to
  the interest of Messrs. Edwards and Phillips; but when to be paid,
  God knows! Bevan said in a month. After all this was settled, in
  came Capt. Trevithick, I believe on purpose, as he came late and
  might have heard that I was gone there. He immediately fell foul
  of our account, in a manner peculiar to himself ... laboured to
  demonstrate that Dalcoath engines not only surpassed the table,
  but even did more work with the coals than Wheal Union did, and
  concluded with saying that we had taken or got the advantage
  of the adventurers. I think he first said the former and then
  hedged off by the latter statement. Mr. Phillips defended, and
  Mr. Edwards, I thought, seemed staggered, though candid. Mr.
  Phillips desired the data that he might calculate it over in his
  way. Mr. Edwards slipped away, but I found afterwards that he was
  in another room with Capt. Gundry (who, and Hodge also, behaved
  exceedingly well--I believe Gundry to be a very sincere, honest
  man). I went out to speak to Joseph, and on my return found only
  Trevithick, Bevan, Hodge, and some others. Soon after, Mr. Edwards
  called out Trevithick to him and Gundry. I heard them very loud,
  and waited their return for an hour; but they not seeming ready to
  return, night coming on, and feeling myself very uncomfortable, I
  came away--so know not what passed further. During all this time,
  I was so confounded with the impudence, ignorance, and overbearing
  manner of the man that I could make no adequate defence, and
  indeed could scarcely keep my temper; which however I did, perhaps
  to a fault; for nothing can be more grievous to an ingenuous mind
  than the being suspected or accused of deceit. To mend the matter,
  it had been an exceedingly rainy morning, and I had got a little
  wet going thither, which had rather hurt my spirits. Yesterday I
  had a violent headache and could do nothing.... Some means must
  be taken to satisfy the country, otherwise this malicious man
  will hurt us exceedingly. The point on which Mr. Edwards seemed
  to lay the most stress was the comparing with a 77-1/10 cylinder,
  as he alleged they would not have put in so large an engine; and
  in this there is some reason, as I do not think they believed
  that the engine would be so powerful as it is. Add to this, that
  the mine barely pays its way. Trevithick made a great noise about
  short strokes at setting on, &c. The Captains seemed to laugh at
  that; and I can demonstrate that, were it allowed for, it would
  not come to 2_s._ 6_d._ per month. I believe they can be brought
  to allow that they would have put in a 70-inch. Now, query if we
  ought to allow this to be calculated from a 70 (at which it will
  come to near 400_l._ a year), and on making this concession insist
  on our having a good paymaster to pay regularly once a month,
  and not be obliged to go like beggars to their accounts to seek
  our due and be insulted by such scoundrels into the bargain. As
  to Hallamanin, they have not met yet, and when they do meet, I
  shall not go to them. I cannot bear such treatment, but it is not
  prudent to resent it too warmly just now. I believe you _must_
  come here. I think fourteen days would settle matters. Besides my
  inability to battle such people, I really have not time to bestow
  on them.”[183]

In subsequent letters Watt continued to urge Boulton to come to him.
His headaches were constant, unfitting him for work. Besides, he could
scarcely stir out of doors for the rain. “It rains here,” said he,
“prodigiously. When you come, bring with you a waxed linen cloak for
yourself, and another for me, as there is no going out now for a few miles
without getting wet to the skin. When it rains in Cornwall, and it rains
often, it rains solid.”


    [183] Watt to Boulton, from Chacewater, 16th October, 1779.
      Boulton MSS.


[By R. P. Leitch]]



Boulton again went to Watt’s help in Cornwall at the end of autumn,
1779. He could not afford to make a long stay, but left so soon as he
had settled several long-pending agreements with the mine proprietors.
The partners then returned to Birmingham together. Before leaving,
they installed Lieutenant Henderson as their representative, to
watch over their interests in their absence. Henderson was a sort of
Jack-of-all-trades and master of none. He had been an officer of marines,
and afterwards a West India sugar-planter. He lost all that he possessed
in Jamaica, but gained some knowledge of levelling, draining, and
machinery. He was also a bit of an inventor, and first introduced himself
to Boulton’s notice by offering to sell him a circular motion by steam
which he alleged he had discovered. This led to a correspondence, which
resulted in his engagement to travel for the firm, and to superintend the
erection of engines when necessary.

Henderson experienced the same difficulty that Watt had done in managing
the adventurers, and during his stay in Cornwall he was never done calling
upon Boulton to hasten to his assistance and help him, as he said, “to
put them in good spirits and good temper.” As the annual meetings drew
near, Henderson anticipated a stormy time of it, and pleaded harder than
ever for Boulton to come to him. It seemed as if it would be necessary
for Boulton to take up his residence in Cornwall; and as the interests at
stake were great, it might be worth his while to do so. By the summer of
1780, Boulton and Watt had made and sold forty pumping-engines, of which
number twenty were erected and at work in different parts of Cornwall;
and it was generally expected that before long there would scarcely be
an engine of the old construction at work in the county. This was, in
fact, the only branch of Boulton’s extensive concerns that promised to be
remunerative.[184] He had become loaded with a burden of debt, from which
the success of the engine-business seemed to offer the only prospect of

    [184] It appears from a statement prepared by Zaccheus Walker,
      the accountant of Boulton and Fothergill, that on an invested
      capital of about 20,000_l._, the excess of losses over profits
      during the eighteen years ending 1780, had been upwards of
      11,000_l._; and that but for the capital and credit of Matthew
      Boulton, that concern must have broken down.

Boulton’s affairs seemed indeed fast approaching to a crisis. He had
raised money in all directions to carry on his extensive concerns. He
had sold the Patkington estate, which came to him by his wife, to Lord
Donegal, for 15,000_l._; he had sold the greater part of his father’s
property, and raised further sums by mortgaging the remainder; he had
borrowed largely from Day,[185] Wedgwood, and others of his personal
friends, and obtained heavy advances from his bankers; but all this was
found insufficient, and his embarrassments seemed only to increase. Watt
could do nothing to help him with money, though he had consented to the
mortgage of the steam-engine royalties to Mr. Wiss, by which the sum of
7000_l._ had been raised. This liability lay heavy on the mind of Watt,
who could never shake himself free of the horror of having incurred such a
debt; and many were the imploring letters that he addressed to Boulton on
the subject. “I beg of you,” said he, “to attend to these money affairs.
I cannot rest in my bed until they [_i. e._ the mortgage and banker’s
advance] have some determinate form. I beg you will pardon my importunity,
but I cannot bear the uneasiness of my own mind, and it is as much your
interest as mine to have them settled.”[186]

    [185] Thomas Day, the eccentric but kindly author of ‘Sandford
      and Merton,’ lent Boulton 3000_l._ at 4 per cent. When Boulton
      came to pay a higher rate of interest on other loans, he wrote
      Day proposing to pay him the same rate; but Day refused to
      accept the advance, as he could not make more of his money
      elsewhere. Day, however, offered him some good advice. “Give me
      leave,” said he, “with the real interest of a sincere friend,
      to express my wishes that now at last when a fortune is within
      your power, you will contract that wide sphere of business in
      which your ingenuity has so long kept you engaged, and which
      has prevented you hitherto, if I may believe the words of one
      of your sincerest friends, the late Dr. Small, from acquiring
      that independence which you ought to have had long ago. I should
      think that now, like a good Christian, thoroughly convinced of
      the inutility of other works, you ought to attach yourself to
      the one thing needful, and determine to be saved ‘even as by
      fire.’ You are now, dear Sir, not of an age to sport any longer
      with fortune. Forgive the freedom of these sentiments, and
      believe me, with the greatest sincerity and regard, Yours, &c.,
                                                          “THOMAS DAY.”

    [186] Watt to Boulton, 20th January, 1779.

The other partner, Fothergill, was quite as downhearted. He urged that
the firm of Boulton and Fothergill should at once stop payment and wind
up; but as this would have seriously hurt the credit of the engine firm,
Boulton would not listen to the suggestion. They must hold on as they
had done before, until better days came round. Fothergill recommended
that at least the unremunerative branches of the business should be
brought to a close. The heaviest losses had indeed been sustained
through Fothergill himself, whose foreign connexions, instead of being
of advantage to the firm, had proved the reverse; and Mr. Matthews, the
London agent, repeatedly pressed Boulton to decline further transactions
with foreigners.

There was one branch of the Boulton and Fothergill business which Boulton
at once agreed to give up. This was the painting and japanning business;
by which, as appears from a statement prepared by Mr. Walker, now before
us, the firm were losing at the rate of 500_l._ a year.

The picture-painting business seems to have been begun in 1777, and
was carried on for some years under the direction of Mr. Eginton,
who afterwards achieved considerable reputation at Birmingham as a
manufacturer of painted glass. A degree of interest has been recently
raised on the subject of the Soho pictures, in consequence of the
statements hazarded as to the method by which they are supposed to have
been produced. It has been surmised that they were taken by some process
resembling photography. We have, however, been unable to find anything
in the correspondence of the firm calculated to support this view. On
the contrary, they are invariably spoken of as “mechanical paintings,”
“pictures,” or “prints,” produced by means of “paints” or “colours.”
Though the precise process by which they were produced is not now known,
there seems reason to believe that they were impressions from plates
prepared in a peculiar manner. The impressions were taken “mechanically”
on paper; and both oil and water colours[187] were made use of. Some
of the pictures were of large size--40 by 50 inches--the subjects being
chiefly classical. This branch of the business being found unproductive,
was brought to a close in 1780, when the partnership with Eginton was at
the same time dissolved.

    [187] Some of the specimens in water colour are to be seen at the
      Museum of Patents, South Kensington. When the paper is moistened
      with the finger, the colour easily rubs off. The whole subject
      of these pictures has recently been thoroughly sifted by M.
      P. W. Boulton, Esq., in his ‘Remarks on some Evidence recently
      communicated to the Photographic Society’ (Bradbury and Evans,
      1864), apropos of the Papers of Mr. W. P. Smith on the same
      subject, in which it was surmised that they were the result
      of some photographic process. Mr. Boulton clearly shows, from
      the original correspondence, that the process was mechanical
      colour-printing. He also adds,--“From the brief statements
      which I remember to have heard from my father concerning the
      polygraphic process, my impression of it was that it copied
      colour mechanically, not merely chiaro-scuro. And I agree with
      the opinion which has been expressed to other persons, that in
      the coloured specimens in the Museum, there are indications that
      the colour was laid on _mechanically_,--not by hand or brush.”
      As the process of “dead-colouring” the pictures is occasionally
      referred to, it is probable that the pictures passed through
      more stages than one, as in the case of modern colour-printing.
      In one of Eginton’s letters, three plates were spoken of as
      necessary for taking impressions of one of the pictures.

Another and more fortunate branch of business into which Boulton
entered with Watt and Keir, about the same time, was the manufacture
of letter-copying machines. Watt made the invention, Boulton found the
money for taking out the patent, and Keir conducted the business. Watt
was a very voluminous correspondent, and the time occupied by him in
copying letters, the contents of which he desired to keep secret from
third parties, was such that in order to economise it he invented the
method of letter-copying in such common use. The invention consisted in
the transfer, by pressure, of the writing made with mucilaginous ink, to
damped and unsized transparent copying-paper, by means either of a rolling
press or a screw press. Though Watt himself preferred the rollers, the
screw press is now generally adopted as the more simple and efficacious

This invention was made by Watt in the summer of 1778. In June we find
him busy experimenting on copying-papers of different kinds, requesting
Boulton to send him specimens of “the most even and whitest unsized
paper;” and in the following month he wrote Dr. Black, “I have lately
discovered a method of copying writing instantaneously, provided it has
been written the same day, or within twenty-four hours. I send you a
specimen, and will impart the secret if it will be of any use to you. It
enables me to copy all my business letters.”[188] For two years Watt kept
his method of copying a secret; but hearing that certain persons were
prying into it with the view of turning it to account, he determined to
anticipate them by taking out a patent, which was secured in May, 1780. By
that time Watt had completed the details of the press and the copying-ink.
Sufficient mahogany and lignum-vitæ had been ordered for making 500
machines, and Boulton went up to London to try and get the press
introduced in the public offices. He first waited upon several noblemen
to interest them in the machine, amongst others on Lord Dartmouth, who
proposed to show it to George III. “The King,” said Boulton, in a letter
to Watt, “writes a great deal, and takes copies of all he writes with
his own hand, so that Lord Dartmouth thinks it will be a very desirable
thing for His Majesty.” Several of those to whom the machine was first
shown, apprehended that it would lead to increase of forgery--then a great
source of terror to commercial men. The bankers concurred in this view,
and strongly denounced the invention; and they expostulated with Boulton
and Watt’s agent for offering the presses for sale. “Mr. Woodmason,”
wrote Boulton, “says the bankers mob him for having anything to do with
it; they say that it ought to be suppressed.” Boulton was not dismayed by
this opposition, but proceeded to issue circulars to the members of the
Houses of Lords and Commons, descriptive of the machine, inviting them
to an inspection of it, after which he communicated the results to his

  ... “On Tuesday morning last I waited on some particular noblemen,
  according to promise, at their own houses, with the press, and
  at one o’clock I took possession of a private room adjoining
  the Court of Requests, Westminster Hall, where I was visited by
  several members of both Houses, who in general were well pleased
  with the invention; but all expressed their fears of forgery,
  which occasioned and obliged me to exercise my lungs very much.
  Many of the members tried to copy bank notes, but in vain. I had a
  full audience till half-past eight o’clock.... I had quite a mob
  of members next day; some of them mobbed me for introducing such
  wicked arts; however, upon the whole, I had a greater majority
  than Lord North hath had this year.

  On Thursday ... at half-past two ... I had a tolerable good
  House, even a better than the Speaker, who was often obliged
  to send his proper officer to fetch away from me the members to
  vote, and sometimes to make a House. As soon as the House formed
  into a Committee upon the Malt-tax, the Speaker left the chair
  and sent for me and the machine, which was carried through the
  gallery in face of the whole House into the Speaker’s Chamber.
  I found him full of fears about the dreadful consequences,
  which I quieted before I left him, and he with his two friends
  subscribed. I attended again on Friday, but, from a very thin
  House and curiosity abating, I had very few [subscriptions]. Mr.
  Banks came to see the machine on Thursday. I thought it might be
  of service to show it to the Royal Society that evening.... After
  the business of the Society was over, he announced Mr. Watt’s
  invention, and my readiness to show it, and it was accordingly
  brought in and afforded much satisfaction to a crowded audience.
  I did not show the list of subscribers and the proposals, nor
  dishonour philosophy by trade in that room.... I spent Friday
  evening with Smeaton and other engineers at a coffee-house, when a
  gentleman (not knowing me) exclaimed against the copying-machine,
  and wished the inventor was hanged and the machines all burnt,
  which brought on a laugh, as I was known to most present.... There
  are great names enough already among the subscribers to give a
  sanction and authority to it, as well as to make it fashionable,
  which has more influence upon the minds of three-fourths of the
  Londoners than the intrinsic merit of the thing, and without which
  it would have been some years in making its way.”[189]

    [188] Watt to Dr. Black, 24th July, 1778.

    [189] Boulton to Watt, 14th May, 1780. Boulton MSS.

By the end of the year, the 150 machines first made were sold off, and
more orders were coming in. Thirty were wanted for exportation abroad,
and a still greater number were wanted at home. The letter-copying
machine gradually and steadily made its way, until at length there was
scarcely a house of any extensive business transactions in which it was
not to be found. Watt himself, writing of the invention some thirty years
later, observed that it had proved so useful to himself that it had been
worth all the trouble of inventing it, even had it been attended with no
pecuniary profit whatever.

Boulton’s principal business, however, while in town, was not so much
to push the letter-copying machine, but to set straight the bankers’
account, which had been overdrawn to the amount of 17,000_l._ He was able
to satisfy them to a certain extent by granting mortgages on the engine
royalties payable in Cornwall, besides giving personal bonds for repayment
of the advances within a given time. It was necessary to obtain Watt’s
consent to both these measures; but, though Watt was willing to agree to
the former expedient, he positively refused to be a party to the personal
bonds.[190] Boulton was therefore under the necessity of arranging the
matter himself. He was thereby enabled to meet the more pressing claims
upon the firm, and to make arrangements for pushing on the engine business
with renewed vigour. Watt was, however, by no means so anxious on this
score as Boulton was. He was even desirous of retiring from the concern,
and going abroad in search of health. “Without I can spare time this next
summer,” he wrote, “to go to some more healthy climate to procure a little
health, if climate will do, I must give up business and the world too. My
head is good for nothing.”[191] While Boulton was earnestly pressing the
invention on the mining interest, and pushing for orders, Watt shuddered
at the prospect of one. He saw in increase of business only increase of
headaches. “The care and attention which our business requires,” said
he, “make me at present dread a fresh order with as much horror as other
people with joy receive one. What signifies it to a man though he gain the
whole world, if he lose his health and his life? The first of these losses
has already befallen me, and the second will probably be the consequence
of it, without some favourable circumstances which at present I cannot
foresee should prevent it.”

    [190] On the 18th May, 1780, Watt wrote Boulton, then in London,
      as follows:--“I am sorry, my dear Sir, to prove in any shape
      refractory to what you desire, but my quiet, my peace of mind,
      perhaps my very existence, depend on what I have told you. I
      am unhappy in not having any person I can advise with on this
      subject; and my own knowledge of it is insufficient. Therefore,
      if I appear too rigid, do not blame me, but my ignorance and
      timidity.” And again, on the 19th, on returning the draft
      mortgage, he wrote:--“If my executing this deed cannot be
      dispensed with, I will do it, but will not execute any personal
      bond for the money. I would rather assign you all Cornwall on
      proper conditions than execute this.”

    [191] Watt to Boulton, 11th April, 1780.

Judging by the correspondence of Watt, his sufferings of mind and body at
this time must have been excessive; and the wonder is how he lived through
it. But “the creaking gate hangs long on its hinges,” and he lived to
the age of eighty-three, long surviving his stronger and more courageous
partner. Intense headache seemed to be his normal state, and his only
tolerable moments were those in which the headache was less violent than
usual. His son has since described how he remembered seeing his father
about this time, sitting by the fireside for hours together, with his
head leaning on his elbow, suffering from most acute sick-headaches, and
scarcely able to give utterance to his thoughts. “My headache,” he would
write to Boulton, “keeps its week-aversary to-day.” At another time,
“I am plagued with the blues; my head is too much confused to do any
brain-work.” Once, when he had engaged to accompany his wife to an evening
concert, he wrote, “I am quite eat up with the mulligrubs, and to complete
the matter I am obliged to go to an oratorio, or serenata, or some other
nonsense, to-night.” Mrs. Watt tried her best to draw him out of himself,
but it was not often that she could divert him from his misery. What
relieved him most was sleep, when he could obtain it; and, to recruit
his powers, he was accustomed to take from nine to eleven hours sleep
at night, besides naps during the day. When Boulton had erysipelas, in
Cornwall, and could not stir abroad, he wrote to his partner complaining
of an unusual lowness of spirits, on which Watt undertook to be his
comforter in his own peculiar way. “There is no pitch of low spirits,”
said he, “that I have not a perfect notion of, from hanging melancholy to
peevish melancholy: conquer the devil when he is young.” Watt experienced
all the tortures of confirmed dyspepsia, which cast its dark shadow over
the life of every day. His condition was often most pitiable. It is true,
many of the troubles which beset him were imaginary, but he suffered
from them in idea as much as if they had been real. Small evils fretted
him, and great ones overwhelmed him. He met them all more than halfway,
and usually anticipated the worst. He had few moments of cheerfulness,
hopefulness, or repose. Speaking of one of his violent headaches, he said,
“I believe it was caused by something making my stomach very acid;” and
unhappily, as in the case of most dyspeptics, the acidity communicated
itself to his temper. When these fits came upon him, and the world was
going against him, and ruin seemed about to swallow him up quick, he
would sit down and pen a long gloomy letter to his partner, full of agony
and despair. His mental condition at the time shows at what expense of
suffering in mind and body the triumphs of genius are sometimes achieved.

In the autumn of 1780, Boulton went into Cornwall for a time to look
after the business there. Several new engines had been ordered, and were
either erected or in progress, at Wheal Treasury, Tresavean, Penrydee,
Dalcoath, Wheal Chance, Wheal Crenver, and the United Mines. One of the
principal objects of his visit was to settle the agreements with the
mining companies for the use of these engines.

It had been found difficult to estimate the actual savings of fuel, and
the settlement of the accounts was a constant source of cavil. There was
so much temptation on the one side to evade the payments according to the
tables prepared by Watt, and so much occasion for suspicion on the other
that they had been evaded by unfair means, that it appeared to Boulton
that the only practicable method was to agree to a fixed annual payment
for each engine erected, according to its power and the work it performed.
Watt was very averse to giving up the tables which had cost him so much
labour to prepare; but Boulton more wisely urged the adoption of the
plan that would work most smoothly, and get rid of the heartburnings on
both sides. Boulton accordingly sent down to Watt a draft agreement with
the Wheal Virgin adventurers, who were prepared to pay the large sum of
2500_l._ a year in respect of five new engines erected for their firm;
and urged him to agree to the terms. “You must not be too rigid,” said
he, “in fixing the dates of payment. A hard bargain is a bad bargain.”
Watt replied in a long letter, urging the accuracy of his tables, and
intimating his reluctance to depart from them. To this Boulton responded,
“Now, my dear Sir, the way to do justice to our own characters, and to
trample under our feet envy, hatred, and malice, is to dispel the doubts,
and to clear up the minds of the gentlemanly part of this our best of all
kingdoms; for if they think we do wrong, it operates against us although
we do none, just as much as if we really did the wrong. Patience and
candour should mark all our actions, as well as firmness in being just to
ourselves and others. A fair character and standing with the people is
attended with great advantage as well as satisfaction, of which you are
fully sensible, so I need say no more.”[192]

    [192] Boulton, at Plengwarry, to Watt, at Birmingham, 14th
      September, 1780. This day was Boulton’s birthday, and alluding
      to the circumstance he wrote,--“As sure as there are 1728 inches
      in a cubic foot, so sure was I born in that year; and as sure
      as there are 52 weeks in the year and 52 cards in the pack, so
      surely am I 52 years old this very day. May you and Mrs. Watt
      live very long and be very happy.”

Watt did not give up his favourite tables without further expostulation
and argument, but at length he reluctantly gave his assent to the Wheal
Virgin agreement, by which the annual payment of 2500_l._ was secured.
Though this was really an excellent bargain, Watt seemed to regard
it in the light of a calamity. In the letter intimating his reluctant
concurrence, he observed: “These disputes are so very disagreeable to
me, that I am very sorry I ever bestowed so great a part of my time and
money on the steam-engine. I can bear with the artifices of the designing
part of mankind, but having myself no intention to deceive others, I
cannot brook the suspicions of the honest part, which I am conscious
I never merited even in intention, far less by any actual attempt to
deceive;”[193] Two days later Watt again wrote, urging the superiority of
his tables, concluding thus: “I have been so much molested with headaches
this week, that I have perhaps written in a more peevish strain than I
should have done if I had been in better health, which I hope you will
excuse.” Boulton replied, expressing regret at his lowness of spirits and
bad health, advising him to cheer up. “At your leisure,” said he, “you may
amuse yourself with a calculation of what all the engines we shall have
in eighteen months erected in Cornwall will amount to; you will find it
good for low spirits.” “I assure you,” he said at another time, “you have
no cause for apprehension as to anything in this country; all is going on
well.” Boulton seemed to regard his partner in the light of a permanent
invalid, which he was; and on writing to his various correspondents on
matters of business at Soho, he would abjure them not to cross Mr. Watt.
To Fothergill he wrote respecting the execution of an order, “the matter
must be managed with some delicacy respecting Mr. Watt, as you know that
when he is low-spirited he is vexed at trifles.”

    [193] Watt to Boulton, 10th October, 1780. Boulton MSS.

Another important part of Boulton’s business in Cornwall, besides settling
the engine agreement, was to watch the mining adventures themselves, in
which by this time Boulton and Watt had become largely interested. In the
then depressed state of the mining interest, it was in many cases found
difficult to raise the requisite money to pay for the new engines; and the
engineers must either go without orders or become shareholders to prevent
the undertakings dropping through altogether. Watt’s caution impelled him
at first to decline entering into such speculations. He was already in
despair at what he considered the bad fortunes of the firm, and the load
of debts they had incurred in carrying on the manufacture of engines. But
there seemed to be no alternative, and he at length came to the conclusion
with Boulton, that it was better “not to lose a sheep for a ha’porth of

    [194] Watt to Boulton, 20th April, 1780.

Rather than lose the orders, therefore, or risk the losses involved by
the closing of the mines worked by their engines, the partners resolved
to incur the risk of joining in the adventures, and in course of time they
became largely interested in them. They also induced friends in the North
to join them, more particularly Josiah Wedgwood and John Wilkinson, who
took shares to a large amount.

Boulton now made it his business to attend the meetings of the
adventurers, in the hope of improving their working arrangements, which
he believed were very imperfect. He was convinced of this after his first
meeting with the adventurers of the Wheal Virgin mine. He found their
proceedings conducted without regard to order. The principal attention was
paid to the dining, and after dinner and drink little real business could
be done. No minutes were made of the proceedings; half the company were
talking at the same time on different subjects; no one took the lead in
conducting the discussions, which were disorderly and anarchical in the
extreme. Boulton immediately addressed himself to the work of introducing
order and despatch. He called upon his brother adventurers to do their
business first, and dine and talk afterwards. He advised them to procure
a minute-book in which to enter the resolutions and proceedings. His
clear-headed suggestions were at once agreed to; and the next meeting, for
which he prepared the agenda, was so entirely different from all that had
preceded it, in respect of order, regularity, and the business transacted,
that his influence with the adventurers was at once established. “The
business,” he wrote to Watt, “was conducted with more regularity, and
more of it was done, than was ever known at any previous meeting.” He
perceived, however, that there was still room for great improvements,
and added, “somebody must be here all next summer ... I shall be here
myself the greater part of it, for there will want more kicking than you
can do.... _Grace au Dieu!_ I neither want health, nor spirits, nor even
flesh, for I grow fat.”[195]

    [195] Boulton to Watt, 25th and 30th September, 1780. Boulton MSS.

To increase his influence among the adventurers, and secure the advantages
of a local habitation among them, Boulton deemed it necessary to take
a mansion capable of accommodating his family, and which should serve
the same purpose for his partner when sojourning in the neighbourhood.
Boulton’s first idea was to have a portable wooden house built and fitted
up in the manner of a ship’s cabin, which might readily be taken to
pieces and moved from place to place as business required. This plan was,
however, eventually abandoned in favour of a residence of a more fixed
kind. After much searching, a house was found which promised to answer
the intended purpose,--an old-fashioned, roomy mansion, with a good-sized
garden full of fruit trees, prettily situated at Cosgarne, in the Gwennap
valley. Though the United Mines district was close at hand, and fourteen
of Boulton and Watt’s engines were at work in the immediate neighbourhood,
not an engine chimney was to be seen from the house, which overlooked
Tresamble Common, then an unenclosed moor. Here the partners by turns
spend much of their time for several successive years, travelling about
from thence on horseback from mine to mine to superintend the erection
and working of their engines.

[Illustration: COSGARNE HOUSE.]

By this time the old Newcomen engines had been almost completely
superseded, only one of that construction remaining at work in the whole
county of Cornwall. The prospects of the engine business were, indeed, so
promising, that Boulton even contemplated retiring altogether from his
other branches of business at Soho, and settling himself permanently in

    [196] His partner Fothergill would not, however, consent to let
      Boulton go, and the Soho business was continued until the death
      of Fothergill (bankrupt) in 1782, after which it was continued
      for some time longer under the firm of Boulton and Scale.

Notwithstanding the great demand for engines, the firm continued for some
time in serious straits for money, and Boulton was under the necessity of
resorting to all manner of expedients to raise it, sometimes with Watt’s
concurrence, but oftener without. Watt’s inexperience in money matters,
conjoined with his extreme timidity and nervousness, made him apprehend
ruin and bankruptcy from every fresh proposition made to him on the
subject of raising money. He was kept so utterly wretched by his fears as
to be on occasions quite unmanned, and he would brood for days together
on the accumulation of misery and anxiety which his great invention had
brought upon him. His wife was kept almost as miserable as himself, and as
Matthew Boulton was the only person, in her opinion, who could help him
out of his troubles, she privately appealed to him in the most pathetic

  “I know,” she wrote, “the goodness of your heart will readily
  forgive me for this freedom, and your friendship for Mr. Watt
  will, I am sure, excuse me for pointing out a few things that
  press upon his mind. I am very sorry to tell you that both his
  health and spirits have been much worse since you left Soho. It
  is all that I can do to keep him from sinking under that fatal
  depression. Whether the badness of his health is owing to the
  lowness of his spirits, or the lowness of his spirits to his bad
  health, I cannot pretend to tell. But this I know, that there
  are several things that prey so upon his mind as to render him
  perfectly miserable. You know the bond that he is engaged in
  to Vere’s house has been the source of great uneasiness to him.
  It is still so, and the thought of it bows him down to the very
  ground. He thinks that company has used both you and him very ill
  in refusing to release him, when you can give them security for a
  vast deal more than you are bound for. Forgive me, dear Sir, if I
  express myself wrong. It is a subject I am not used to write on.
  I know if you can you will set his mind at rest on this affair.
  I need not tell you that the seeing him so very unhappy must of
  consequence make me so. There is another affair that sits very
  heavy on his mind; that is, some old accounts that have remained
  unsettled since the commencement of the business. They never
  come across his mind but he is rendered unfit for doing anything
  for a long time. A thousand times have I begged him to mention
  them to you.... I am sure he would suffer every kind of anxiety
  rather than ask you to do a thing you seemed not to approve of. I
  know the humanity of your nature would make you cheerfully give
  relief to any of the human race that was in distress, as far as
  was within your power. The knowledge of this makes me happy in
  the thought that you will exert every nerve to give ease to the
  mind of your friend. Believe me, there is not on earth a person
  who is dearer to him than you are. It causes him pain to give
  you trouble. The badness of his constitution, and his natural
  dislike to business, make him leave many things undone that he
  knows ought to be done, and, when it is perhaps too late, to make
  himself unhappy at their being neglected.... In his present state
  of weakness, every ill, however trifling, appears of a gigantic
  size, while on the other hand every good is diminished. Again,
  I repeat, that from the certain knowledge I have of his temper,
  nothing could contribute more to his happiness and make him go
  on cheerfully with business than having everything finished as
  he goes along, and have no unsettled scores to look back to and
  brood over in his mind.”[197]

    [197] Mrs. Watt to Mr. Boulton, then in London, 15th April, 1781.
      Boulton MSS.

Mrs. Watt concluded by entreating that no mention would be made to her
husband of her having written this letter, as it would only give him pain,
and explaining that she had adopted the expedient merely in the hope that
something might be done to alleviate his sufferings. This, however, was a
very difficult thing to do. Boulton could remind his hopeless partner of
the orders coming in for engines, and that such orders meant prosperity,
not ruin; but he could not alter the condition of a mind essentially
morbid. Boulton was himself really in far greater straits than Watt. He
had risked his whole fortune on the enterprise; and besides finding money
for buildings, plant, wages, materials, and credits, he was maintaining
Watt until the engine business became productive. We find from the annual
balance-sheets that Watt was regularly paid 330_l._ a year, which was
charged upon the hardware business; and that this continued down to the
year 1785. Till then everything had been out-go; the profits were all to
come. It was estimated that upwards of 40,000_l._ were invested in the
engine business before it began to yield profits; and all this was found
by Boulton. In one of his letters to Matthews he wrote, “I find myself
in the character of P, pay for all,” but so long as his credit held good,
Watt’s maintenance was secure.

So soon, however, as it became clear that the enterprise would be a
success, and that the demand for engines must shortly become national, the
firm was threatened with a danger of another kind, which occasioned almost
as much alarm to Boulton as it did to Watt. This was the movement set on
foot in Cornwall and elsewhere with the object of upsetting their patent.
Had the engine been a useless invention, no one could have questioned
their right of property in it; but, being recognised as of boundless
utility, it began to be urged that the public ought to be free to use it
without paying for it. It was alleged that it had become indispensable
for the proper working of the mines, and that the abolition of the patent
right would be an immense boon to the mining interest, and enable them to
work the ores at a much reduced cost, while the general industry of the
country would also be greatly benefited.

When Boulton wrote Watt from Cornwall, informing him that the Cornishmen
were agitating the repeal of the special Act by which their patent had
been extended, and getting up petitions with that object, Watt replied,
“I suspected some such move as this; and you may depend upon it they will
never be easy while they pay us anything. This is a match of all Cornwall
against Boulton and Watt; and though we may be the better players, yet
they can hold longer out. However, if we do die, let us die hard.”[198]

    [198] In another letter Watt described himself as “worried by the
      Wheal Chanceians.... In short,” says he, “I am at this moment so
      provoked at the undeserved rancour with which we are persecuted
      in Cornwall, that, were it not on account of the deplorable
      state of debt I find myself in, I would live on bread and
      cheese, and suffer the water to run out at their adits, before
      I would relax the slightest iota of what I thought my right in
      their favour.”--Watt to Boulton, 17th October, 1780. Boulton

But would Parliament really take away that right of property in the
invention which they had granted, and deprive Watt and his partner of
the fruits of their long labour and anxiety, and their heavy outlay,
now that the superiority of the engine had become established? Would
the legislature consign them to certain ruin because it would be for the
advantage of the Cornish miners to have the use of the invention without
paying for it? Watt would not for a moment believe this, and both he and
Boulton felt strong in the conviction that their patent right would be

Time was, when Watt would have gladly parted with his invention for a very
small sum, and made the engine free to all, so far as he was concerned.
Even after it had been perfected at Soho, after repeated and costly
experiments, he declared his willingness to sell all his interest in it
for 7000_l._, which would have barely remunerated him for the time and
labour he had bestowed upon it, then extending over nearly twenty years of
the best period of his life. And now, after six years of the partnership
had run, and the heavy expenditure incurred by Boulton in introducing
the engine was still unproductive, he regarded it as cruel in the extreme
to attempt to deprive him of his just reward. To Boulton he disburdened
himself fully, in strong and sometimes bitter terms. “They charge us,”
he said, “with establishing a monopoly, but if a monopoly, it is one
by means of which their mines are made more productive than ever they
were before. Have we not given over to them two-thirds of the advantages
derivable from its use in the saving of fuel, and reserved only one-third
to ourselves, though even that has been still further reduced to meet
the pressure of the times? They say it is inconvenient for the mining
interest to be burdened with the payment of engine dues; just as it is
inconvenient for the person who wishes to get at my purse that I should
keep my breeches-pocket buttoned. It is doubtless also very inconvenient
for the man who wishes to get a slice of the squire’s land, that there
should be a law tying it up by an entail. Yet the squire’s land has not
been of his own making, as the condensing engine has been of mine. He has
only passively inherited his property, while this invention has been the
product of my own labour, and of God knows how much anguish of mind and

  “Why don’t they,” he asked, “petition Parliament to take Sir
  Francis Bassett’s mines from him? He acknowledges that he has
  derived great profits from using our engines, which is more than
  we can say of our invention; for it appears by our books that
  Cornwall has hitherto eaten up all the profits we have drawn
  from it, as well as all that we have got from other places, and
  a good sum of our own money into the bargain. We have no power to
  compel anybody to erect our engines. What, then, will Parliament
  say to any man who comes there to complain of a grievance he can
  avoid, and which does not exist but in his own imagination? Will
  Parliament give away our property without an equivalent? Will they
  not collect that equivalent from the county of Cornwall? Will they
  adjudge them to pay us any less sum than it has cost ourselves?
  Will they not further add some reward for the quantity of life
  that has been devoted to the pursuit of what is evidently for
  the advantage of others, but hitherto has not been for our own?
  Lastly, will Parliament compel us to work for anybody without a
  remuneration adequate to our experience, or will they oblige us
  to labour for any one without our consent? We are in the state of
  the old Roman who was found guilty of raising better crops than
  his neighbours, and was therefore ordered to bring before the
  assembly of the people his instruments of husbandry, and to tell
  them of his art. He complied, and when he had done said, ‘These
  O Romans, are the instruments of our art; but I cannot bring into
  the forum the labours, the sweats, the watchings, the anxieties,
  the cares, which produced these crops.’ So, every one sees the
  reward which we may yet probably receive from _our_ labours; but
  few consider the price we have paid for that reward, which is by
  no means a certain annuity, but a return of the most precarious
  sort. To put an end, as far as lies in my power, to all disputes
  with the people of Cornwall, let them pay my debts and give me a
  reasonable sum for the time I have lost, and I will resign my part
  in their favour, and think myself well off by the bargain. Or,
  if you can find any man who is agreeable to yourself, I’ll sell
  him my share on reasonable terms, and, like the sailor, I will
  promise to contrive no more fire-engines. In short, my dear Sir,
  with a good cause in hand, I do not fear going before Parliament
  or anywhere. I am sure that if they did anything they would put
  us in a better position than we are in now.”[199]

    [199] Watt to Boulton, 31st October, 1780. Boulton MSS.

The petition to Parliament, though much talked about, was not, however,
presented; and the schemers who envied Boulton and Watt the gains which
they had now the prospect of deriving from the use of their engine,
shortly after resorted to other means of participating in them, to
which we shall hereafter refer. In the mean time Boulton, at the urgent
entreaty of Watt, who described himself as “loaded to 12 lbs. on the
inch,” returned to Birmingham; though he had scarcely left before
urgent entreaties were sent after him that he must come back again to

    [200] “Though your long stay, when you were last here,” wrote
      Henderson, the resident agent, “must have been attended with
      great inconveniences, yet you are now very much wanted in Wheal
      Virgin affairs. Different interests have produced a sort of
      anarchy.... Were Mr. Watt here now, I don’t think his health
      would allow him to stand the battles with the different people.
      I have not written to him freely on this subject, as I am afraid
      it would hurt him.... Your authority here as an adventurer has
      much greater weight than anything I can propose.”--Henderson to
      Boulton, 4th February, 1781. Boulton MSS.

While Boulton was in Cornwall, the principal manufacturers of Birmingham,
dissatisfied with the bad and dear supply of copper, resolved to form
themselves into a company for the purpose of making brass and spelter;
and they wrote to Boulton offering to raise the requisite means,
provided he would take the lead in the management of the concern. He
could not but feel gratified at this best of all proofs of the esteem
in which his townsmen held him, and of their confidence in his business
qualities. Boulton, however, declined to undertake so large an addition
to his labours. He felt that he would soon be an old man, and that it
would be necessary for him to contract rather than extend the field of
his operations; besides, the engine business was already sufficiently
prosperous to induce him to devote to it the chief share of his attention.
But he promised to his Birmingham friends that he would always be glad to
give them his best advice and assistance. He accordingly furnished them
with a plan of operations, and drew up a scheme for their consideration,
which was unanimously adopted, and the whole of the share capital was at
once subscribed for. He also made arrangements with his Cornish friends
for a regular supply of copper direct from the mines on the best terms. On
his return to Birmingham, we find him entering upon an elaborate series of
experiments, to determine the best constituents of brass; in the course
of which he personally visited the principal calamine works in Wales
and Derbyshire, for the purpose of testing their different produce. He
diligently read all the treatises on the subject, and made inquiries as
to the practice adopted in foreign countries. Finding, however, that the
continuance of his connexion with the brass company was absorbing more
of his time than he could afford to bestow upon it, he shortly withdrew
from the concern,--partly also, because he was dissatisfied with what
he considered the illiberal manner in which the managing committee were
conducting its affairs.

Another subject which occupied much of Boulton’s attention about the
same time, was the improvement of engine boilers. At an early period he
introduced tubes in them, through which the heated air of the furnace
passed, thereby greatly increasing the heating surface and enabling steam
to be raised more easily and rapidly. We find him in correspondence with
Watt on the subject, while residing at Redruth in the autumn of 1780. He
first suggested iron tubes; but Watt wrote, “I cannot advise iron for the
tubes of boilers, but they may be thought of.”[201] Next Boulton suggested
the employment of copper tubes; to which Watt replied, “I approve of what
you observe about making copper flanches to the boiler pipes in future,
and Ale and Cakes can easily be converted to that way whenever they put up
a second boiler.” We find Boulton introducing four copper tubes 20 inches
in diameter into the Wheal Busy boiler, which was 26 feet in length,--the
fire passing through two of the tubes, and returning through the other
two. Here, therefore, we have Boulton anticipating the invention of the
tubular boiler, and clearly adopting it in practice, before the existence
of the locomotive, for which it was afterwards re-invented. In fact,
the multitubular boiler is but a modification and extension of Boulton’s
principle, as applied by him at so early a period in the Cornish boilers.

    [201] Watt to Boulton, 17th October, 1780.

The numerous MS. books left by Boulton show the care with which he
made his experiments, and the scrupulousness with which he recorded
the results. Copies of his observations and experiments on boilers
were sent to Watt, to be entered by him in “the calculation book,” in
which was recorded the tabulated experience of the firm. Boulton was
also an excellent mechanical draughtsman, as appears from his tablets,
which contain a number of beautifully executed drawings of engines
and machinery, with very copious and minutely-written instructions for
erecting them. Some of the drawings of sugar-mills are especially well
executed, and delicately coloured. A rough sketch is given in one of
the books, with a written explanation in Boulton’s hand, of a mode of
applying power in taking canal-boats through tunnels. It consists of
an engine-boat, with toothed claws attached to it for the purpose of
catching metal racks fastened along the sides of the tunnel, such being
his design for working boats upon canals. While in Cornwall, he occupied
his evenings in drawing sections of various mines, showing the adits, and
the method of applying the pumping machinery, to which were also added
numerous elaborate calculations of the results of engine working. He
also continued to devise improvements in the construction and working of
the steam-engine, on which subject he exchanged his views with Watt at
great length. In one of his letters he says: “I like your plan of making
all the principal wearing parts of tempered steel, and the racks of best
Swedish iron, with the teeth cut out. Query: Would it not be worth while
to make _a machine_ for dividing and cutting the teeth in good form out
of sectors? The iron would be less strained by that mode of cutting.” At
other times, when the steam-engine subject seemed exhausted, he proceeded
with the designing of road-carriages, in which he was an adept, filling
a quarto drawing-book, entitled ‘Thoughts on Carriages,’ with sketches of
different kinds of vehicles, some in pencil and Indian ink, and others in
colours, beautifully finished. Such were the leisure employments of this
indefatigably industrious man.





Watt’s presence being much wanted in Cornwall, he again proceeded thither,
accompanied by his wife and family, and arrived at Cosgarne towards
the end of June, 1781. He found that many things had gone wrong for
want of the master’s eye, and it was some time before he succeeded in
putting affairs in order. The men had been neglecting their work, “going
a-drinking.” Cartwright had “contracted a fever in his working arm, and
been swallowing ale for a cure,” until he heard Watt had come, when the
fever left him. Mrs. Watt also found occasion to complain of sundry little
grievances, and favoured Boulton with a long catalogue of them. Gregory
and Jessy had caught cold on the journey, and workmen were hammering about
the house making repairs. There was, however, one gleam of brightness in
her letter: “James’s spirits were surprisingly mended since his arrival.”

Watt was a most voluminous correspondent. He wrote Boulton several times
a week great folio sheets, written close, in small hand. The letters must
have occupied much of his time to write, and of Boulton’s to read. The
latter, seeing his partner’s tendency to indulge in “worrit” about petty
troubles, advised him in a kindly spirit not to vex himself so much about
such matters, but to call philosophy to his aid. Why should he not occupy
some of his spare time in writing out a history of all his steam-engine
contrivances, to be dedicated to Sir Joseph Banks, and published in the
‘Transactions of the Royal Society’? But Watt was extremely averse to
writing anything for publication, and the suggestion was not acted on.
Then, knowing Watt’s greatest pleasure to be in inventing, Boulton in a
subsequent letter advised him to take up afresh, and complete a plan which
they had often discussed, of producing rotary motion, by which the engine
might be applied to work mills and drive machinery.

Watt had from the first regarded the employment of the steam-engine in
producing continuous rotary motion as one of its most useful applications,
and with this object he invented his original wheel-engine. No steps were
taken to introduce the invention to practical use; but it occurred to Watt
that the same object might be better effected by employing the ordinary
engine for the purpose, with certain modifications.[202] The subject had
partially occupied his attention during his first visit to Cornwall; for
we find him writing Boulton from Chacewater, in 1779, “As to the circular
motion, I will apply it as soon as I can, but foresee that I shall be
very busy shortly, and much out of doors.” On his subsequent return to
Birmingham, after frequent conferences with his partner on the subject, he
proceeded to prepare a model, in which he made use of a crank connected
with the working beam of the engine to produce the rotary motion. There
was no originality in the employment of the crank, which was an expedient
that Watt had long before made use of.[203] The crank was, indeed, one of
the most common of mechanical appliances. It was in daily use in every
spinning-wheel, in every grindstone turned by hand, in every turner’s
and knife-grinder’s foot-lathe, and in every potter’s wheel. It was one
of the commonest, as it must have been one of the oldest, of mechanical
expedients. “The true inventor of the crank rotative motion,” said Watt,
“was the man who first contrived the common foot-lathe: applying it to
the engine was like taking a knife to cut cheese which had been made to
cut bread.”

    [202] In June, 1780, we find Boulton describing to Colonel Watson
      the progress of the Soho business, as follows:--“Since I had
      the honour of seeing you in England we have erected upwards of
      40 of our new steam-engines, and have (from so much experience)
      obviated every difficulty, and made it a most practicable
      and perfect machine. The steam wheel we have not meddled with
      since you were at Soho, as we have been fully employed upon
      large beam-engines; besides, we have applied the beam engine
      to rotative motions so successfully that the wheel engine seems
      almost unnecessary.”

    [203] Watt had made use of the crank at a very early period.
      Thus we find him writing to Dr. Small on the 20th September,
      1769,--“As to the condenser, I laid aside the spiral wheels
      because of the noise and thumping, and substituted a crank: in
      other respects it performed well enough.”



[By Percival Skelton.]]

Though Watt had become very reserved, especially to strangers, about
his inventions, he could not altogether keep from the knowledge of his
workmen the contrivances on which his thoughts were occupied. He was
under the necessity of employing them to make patterns after his drawings,
from which any ingenious man might readily apprehend what he was aiming
at. The Soho workmen were naturally curious about the new inventions
and adaptations which Watt was constantly producing, and these usually
formed the subject of conversation at their by-hours. While the model of
the crank engine was under construction at Soho in the summer of 1780,
a number of the workmen met one Saturday evening, according to custom,
to drink together at the “Waggon and Horses,” a little old-fashioned,
low-roofed, roadside public-house, still standing in the village of
Handsworth. The men were seated round the little kitchen-parlour, talking
about their work, and boasting, as men will do over their beer, of the new
and wonderful things which they were carrying forward in the shops. Dick
Cartwright, the pattern maker, was one of the loudest of the party. He was
occupied upon a model for the purpose of producing rotary motion, which
he declared would prove one of the best things Mr. Watt had ever brought
out. The other men were curious to know all about it, and to illustrate
the action of the machine, Cartwright proceeded to make a rude sketch of
the crank upon the wooden table with a bit of chalk. A person who sat in
the kitchen corner in the assumed garb of a workman, drank in greedily all
that the men had been saying; for there were many eavesdroppers constantly
hanging about Soho, some for the purpose of picking up surreptitious
information, and others to decoy away skilled workmen who were in the
secrets of the manufacture. Watt himself had never thought of taking
out a patent for the crank, not believing it to be patentable; but the
stranger aforesaid had no such hesitation, and it is said he posted
straight to London and anticipated Watt by securing a protection for the

    [204] The invention was patented by James Pickard, a Birmingham
      button-maker, on the 23rd August, 1780 (No. 1263). Matthew
      Washborough of Bristol arranged with Pickard for employing it
      in the engine invented by him for securing circular motion.
      Washborough’s own patent has no reference to the crank, though
      he is usually named as the inventor of it.

Watt was exceedingly wroth when he discovered the trick which had been
played him, and he suspected that Matthew Washborough was at the bottom of
it. Washborough was a Bristol mechanic, who carried on several branches of
mechanical trade, amongst others that of clock-making on a large scale.
Watt had employed Washborough to make nozzles for several of the Cornish
engines, but was not satisfied with his work; for we find him writing
to his partner, “If Washborough makes no better engines than he does
eduction-pipes, he will soon be blown: the Wheal Union pipe is the worst
job you ever saw, being worse than Forbes’s, which was very bad; I scarce
know what to do with it.” It would appear from this that Washborough had
begun to make engines, thereby turning to account the knowledge he had
acquired in Cornwall. One of the first he made was for the purpose of
driving the lathes of his own manufactory at Bristol; and it affords a
clear proof of Washborough’s ingenuity that in this engine he employed
both the fly-wheel and the crank. He has been styled the inventor of
the fly-wheel, but he was no more its inventor than he was of the crank;
the Irish Professor Fitzgerald having proposed to employ it as part of
a Papin’s engine as early as the year 1757. Washborough shortly after
erected an engine after the same plan for a manufacturer on Snow Hill,
Birmingham; and then it was that Watt learned that he had been “bolted
out,” as he termed it, from making use of the crank.

At first he was puzzled what to do to overcome the difficulty, but his
prolific mind was rarely at a loss, and before many months were over he
had contrived several other methods for effecting rotary motion. “I dare
not, however,” he wrote to Boulton, “_make_ my new scheme, lest we be
betrayed again; I believe we had best take the patent first.” At the same
time Watt was persuaded that no contrivance could surpass the crank[205]
for directness, simplicity, and efficiency. He was therefore desirous,
if possible, of making use of it in his rotative engine, as originally
proposed; and he wrote to Boulton, then at Redruth, “I think you ought
to call upon Washborough as you return, and let him know that we will
dispute his having an exclusive right to those cranks.”[206] Boulton
called upon Washborough accordingly, and gave him notice to this effect.
But Watt hesitated to use the crank after all. Although the contrivance
was by no means new, its application to the steam-engine was new; and,
notwithstanding the unfair way in which Pickard had anticipated him, Watt
did not like to set the example of assailing a patent, however disputable,
as it might furnish a handle to those who were at the time seeking to
attack his own. The proposal was made to him that he should allow the
Washborough Company to use his steam-engine in exchange for their allowing
him to use the crank; but this he positively refused to agree to, as he
felt confident in yet being able to produce a circular motion without
employing the crank at all.

    [205] At a later date we find him writing to his partner thus:--“I
      cannot agree with Mr. Palmer’s notion about the crank engine,
      as, though a crank is not new, yet that application of it is
      new and never was practised except by us. It is by no means our
      interest to demolish the crank patent, because then all our own
      machines of that kind will be of no use, and I am convinced that
      the crank can be made their superior.”--Watt to Boulton, 15th
      October, 1781.

    [206] Watt to Boulton, 19th November, 1780.

Thus matters stood until the beginning of the year 1781, when Washborough,
having entered into an arrangement with the Commissioners of the Navy to
erect an engine for grinding flour at the Deptford Victualling Yard,[207]
a formal application was made to Boulton and Watt to apply their engine
for the purpose. Watt protested that he could not bring himself to submit
to such an indignity. If the Commissioners thought proper to employ him
to erect the necessary engine, rotative motion, and machinery, he would
exert every faculty which God had given him in doing so, but he “would
never consent to hold the candle to Washborough.”

    [207] Boulton and Watt were by this time employing their engine
      for a like purpose, as appears from a letter of Boulton to S.
      Wyatt, dated 28th February, 1781, in which he says,--“We are now
      applying our engines to all kinds of mills, such as corn mills,
      rolling iron and copper, winding coals out of the pit, and every
      other purpose to which the wind or water mill is applicable. In
      such applications, one hundred weight of coals will produce as
      much mechanical power as is equal to the work of ten men for ten
      hours, and these mills may be made very much more powerful than
      any water-mills in England.” To Mr. Henderson he wrote at the
      same date:--“I make no scruple to say but that I could readily
      build a more powerful and in every respect better copper-rolling
      mill by steam than any water-mill now in England. As soon as
      the Cornish engines are at work, I intend to turn millwright
      and make our steam-mills universally known.”

  “Had I esteemed him,” he wrote to Boulton, “a man of ingenuity and
  the real inventor of the thing in question, I should not have made
  any objection; but, when I know that the contrivance is my own,
  and has been stolen from me by the most infamous means, and, to
  add to the provocation, a patent been surreptitiously obtained for
  it, I think it would be descending below the character of _a man_
  to be found in any way aiding or assisting him in his pretended
  invention.... I think, therefore, that you should propose to the
  Honourable Board to undertake the direction of the whole; and,
  provided you can agree with them about the customary premium
  for the savings by our engine, you should do the whirligig part
  [the rotative motion] for love. If this proposal should not be
  accepted, I beg of you to decline having any concern with it, and
  leave the field clear to Washborough. We may perhaps gain more
  by so doing than we can lose, as I assure you I have a very mean
  opinion of the mechanical abilities of our opponents. They have
  committed many gross errors in such of their works as I have had
  occasion to know about, and we may get honour by rectifying their
  mistakes. Perhaps this may seem to you to savour of vanity. If
  it does, excuse it on account of the very provoking circumstances
  which have extorted the confession. If these engineers had let us
  alone, I should not have meddled with them; but, as it is, I think
  we should be wanting in common prudence if we suffered a marriage
  between our machine and theirs, and if we did not do all we could
  to strip them of their borrowed feathers, which I hope there is
  justice enough left in England to enable us to do.”[208]

    [208] Watt to Boulton, 21st April, 1781. On the following day
      (the 22nd April) Watt wrote another long letter to Boulton on
      the same subject. His mind could not be at rest, and he thus
      unburdened himself of his indignation:--“If you find yourself
      so circumstanced, as you say you are, that you _dare_ not refuse
      [to erect the proposed engine for the Navy Board], then let them
      pay M. Washborough and have done with him, and let the engine be
      erected under our direction or Mr. Smeaton’s. With the latter
      I will go hand in hand; nay I will do more--I will submit to
      him in all mechanical matters; but I will by no means submit to
      go on with thieves and puppies, whose knowledge and integrity
      I contemn. Though I am not so saucy as many of my countrymen,
      I have enough of innate pride to prevent me from doing a mean
      action because a servile prudence may dictate it. If a king were
      to think Matt Washborough a better engineer than me, I should
      scorn to undeceive him. I should leave that to Matthew. The
      connexion would be stronger as the evidence would be undeniable.
      So much for heroics!... I will never meanly sue a thief to give
      me my own again, unless I have nothing left behind. As it now
      stands, I have enough left to make their patent tremble, and
      shall leave no mechanical stone unturned to aggrieve them. I
      will do more. I will publish my inventions, by which means they
      will be entirely precluded, because they must be fools indeed
      that will pay _them_ for what they can have for nothing. I
      am very ill with a headache, therefore can write no more than
      passion dictates.”

Boulton acted on his partner’s advice, and declined the proposed
connexion. The Navy Board were placed in a dilemma by this decision.
They then referred the matter to Mr. Smeaton, and requested him to
report to them as to the most suitable plan of a flour-mill, and the
steam-engine best calculated to drive it. To the great surprise of Watt
as well as Washborough, Smeaton reported that both their engines were
alike unsuited for such a purpose. “I apprehend,” he said, “that no
motion communicated from the reciprocating lever of a fire-engine can
ever produce a perfect circular motion, like the regular efflux of water
in turning a water-wheel!” This report relieved the Commissioners. They
abandoned their scheme, and the order for Washborough’s engine was at once

So soon as Watt had got fairly settled at Cosgarne, in the summer of 1781,
he proceeded to work out the plan of a rotary-working engine. Boulton was
making experiments with the same object at Soho, communicating to him the
results from day to day. He was stimulated to prosecute the inquiry by
the applications which he received from many quarters for steam-engines
suitable for driving mills. He therefore urged Watt to complete the
invention, and to prepare the drawings and specification, declaring his
readiness at any time to provide the money requisite for taking out a
patent. “The people in London, Manchester, and Birmingham,” said he,
“are _steam-mill mad_. I don’t mean to hurry you, but I think that in
the course of a month or two we should determine to take out a patent
for certain methods of producing rotative motion from the vibrating or
reciprocating motion of the fire-engine,--remembering that we have four
months in which to describe the particulars of the invention.”[210]

    [209] Washborough was much mortified by the decision of the Navy
      Board, and alleged that he had been badly used by them. The
      anxieties occasioned by his failure, and the pecuniary losses he
      had sustained, preyed heavily upon his mind, and he was seized
      by a fever which carried him off in October, 1781, when only
      in his 28th year. He was unquestionably a young man of much
      ingenuity and merit, and had he lived would have achieved high
      eminence and distinction as an engineer.

    [210] Boulton to Watt, 21st June, 1781.

Watt proceeded to put his ideas in a definite shape as fast as his bad
health and low spirits would allow. Every now and then a fit of despair
came upon him about his liability to the bankers, and so long as it lasted
he was unmanned, and could do nothing. At the very time that Boulton was
writing the letter last quoted, Watt was thus bewailing his unhappy lot:--

  “When I executed the mortgage,” said he, “my sensations were such
  as were not to be envied by any man who goes to death in a just
  cause; nor has time lessened the acuteness of my feelings....
  I thought I was resigning in one hour the fruits of the labour
  of my whole life,--and that if any accident befell you or me, I
  should have left a wife and children destitute of the means of
  subsistence, by throwing away the only jewel Fortune had presented
  me with.... These transactions have been such a burden upon my
  mind that I have become in a manner indifferent to all other
  things, and can take pleasure in nothing until my mind is relieved
  from them; and perhaps, from so long a disuse of entertaining
  pleasing ideas, never may be capable of receiving them any

    [211] Watt to Boulton, 21st June, 1781.

Boulton made haste to console his partner, and promised to take immediate
steps to relieve his mind of the anxiety that weighed so heavy upon
it; and he was as good as his word. At the same time he told Watt that
he must not suppose he was the only man in the world who had cares and
troubles to endure. Boulton himself had, perhaps, more than his share,
but he tried to bear them as lightly as he could. With his heavy business
engagements to meet, his large concerns to keep going, he was not a man
much to be envied; yet he continued to receive his visitors as usual at
Soho, and to put on a cheerful countenance. “I am obliged,” he wrote, “to
smile, to laugh, to be good-humoured, sometimes to be merry, and even go
to the play! Oh, that I were at the Land’s End!” Such was his playful way
of reminding Watt of the necessity of cheerfulness to enable one to get
through work pleasantly.[212] But Watt’s temperament was wholly different.
His philosophy never rose to the height of taking things easy. He could
not cast his cares behind him, nor lose sight of them; but carried them
about with him by day, and took them to bed with him at night; thus making
life a sort of prolonged vexation--a daily and nightly misery.

    [212] While Boulton spoke good humouredly to his partner in
      Cornwall with the object of cheering him up, he privately
      unbosomed himself to his friend Matthews in London. When
      requesting him to call at once on the bankers and get the
      account reduced to an advance of 12,000_l._, and thus obtain
      Mr. Watt’s release, he complained of the distress which the
      communications of the latter had caused him. He thought his
      conduct ungenerous, taking all the circumstances into account,
      and considering that the firm were within a year of being
      tolerably easy in money matters. “When I reflect,” he wrote, “on
      his situation in 1772 and my own at that time, and compare them
      with his and mine now, I think I owe him little.... I some time
      ago gave him a security of all my two-thirds, after paying off
      L. V. and W. [the bankers], from which you may judge how little
      reason he has to complain. He talks of his duty to his wife
      and children; by the same rule I ought not to neglect mine. His
      wife’s fortune joined to his own did not amount to sixpence: my
      wife brought me in money and land 28,000_l._ I advanced him all
      he wanted without a security, but in return he is not content
      with an ample security for advancing nothing at all but what he
      derived from his connexion with me.”--Boulton to Matthews, 28th
      June, 1781. Boulton MSS.

But a new and still more alarming source of anxiety occurred to disturb
the mind of poor Watt, and occasion him many more sleepless nights. The
movement to abolish the patent by repeal of the Act of Parliament having
broken down, attempts were now made in many quarters to evade it by
ingenious imitations, in which the principle of Watt’s engine was adopted
in variously disguised forms. But to do this successfully would have
required an inventive faculty almost as potent as that of Watt himself;
and he had drawn the specification of his patent too carefully to be
easily broken through by the clumsy imitators who made the attempt. It
was, however, only natural that the success of the new engine should draw
the attention of ingenious mechanics to the same subject. Watt had drawn a
great prize, and why should not they? though they little knew the burden
of sorrow which his prize had brought upon him. They only knew of the
large annual dues--probably exaggerated by the tongue of rumour--which
were being paid to the patentees for the use of their engines; and
they not unnaturally sought to share in the good fortune. There might
possibly be other mechanical methods by which the same objects were to
be accomplished, without borrowing from Watt; at all events it was worth
trying. Hence the number of mechanical schemers who made their appearance
almost simultaneously in all parts of the country, and the number of new
methods of various kinds contrived by them for the production of motive

Watt was very soon informed of the schemes which were on foot in his
immediate neighbourhood--much too soon for his peace of mind. He at
once wrote to his partner: “Some Camborne gentlemen (supposed to be
Bonze and Trevithick) have invented a new engine which they say beats
ours two-thirds, and one of the partners has gone to London to procure
a patent for it. A Mr. Vice says he has also invented a new engine,
and that they have stolen his and compounded it with ours; he intends
to take out a caveat against them.”[213] Though Bonze was an excellent
engineer, and elicited the admiration of Watt himself, it turned out that
he had no concern with the new invention. Its projectors proved to be
the Hornblowers, also engineers of considerable local repute. Watt had
befriended the family, and employed them in erecting his engines, by which
means they became perfectly familiar with their construction and mode of
action. Jonathan Hornblower had a large family of sons, of whom Jabez,
Jesse, Jethro, and Jonathan were engineers, like their father. Jabez,
one of the cleverest, had spent some time in Holland, from whence he had
returned with some grand scheme in his head for carrying out an extensive
system of drainage in that country. Like his father and the other sons,
he was employed in erecting Watt’s engines,[214] which had the effect
of directing his attention to the invention of a new power which should
supersede that of his employer.

    [213] Watt to Boulton, 24th June, 1781.

    [214] Watt befriended Jabez like the other members of his family,
      as appears from the following passage in a letter to Boulton
      (6th September, 1778):--“Capt. Paul has turned Jabez adrift,
      having for some time taken umbrage at him because he would
      do his work well and therefore expensively. Jabez has a bad
      wife, is poor and unhappy. He is very clever, a good engineer,
      and industrious, though he seems not to have the faculty of
      conciliating people’s affections. I fear he will go to Holland,
      and as he can hurt us [there being no patent for the engine
      secured there] I must try to get him bread here.” Later,
      Boulton wrote Watt from Redruth (18th November, 1780),--“Old
      Hornblower has disobliged Mr. Daniel. I have my fears they will
      not employ him; but when our own business is sealed to-morrow,
      I will make a push in his favour. That family hath not been
      successful in conciliating the affections of the people in this

It was for some time doubtful what was the precise character of the new
engine. Indeed the Hornblowers themselves long remained undecided about
its actual form, being still in the throes of invention. They knew that
they must copy discreetly, so as not to lay themselves too open to attack;
and though they urged the superiority of their engine so strongly as
to induce several of the mining companies to believe in them, and even
to withhold orders from Boulton and Watt, they refrained as yet from
publishing their invention. Watt wrote to his partner that he understood
the Hornblowers’ engine was on some new principle, and the only novelty
he could think of was a caloric air-engine. He therefore asked Boulton
to make all the inquiries he could as to the respective bulks and prices
per 1000 feet of all possible kinds of air in their most expanded states.
“I am much vexed,” he continued, “by this affair. Jabez does not want
abilities: the rest are fools. If they have really found a prize, it will
ruin us.... Bankruptcy might ensue to both. But I don’t fear getting my
bread independent of engines, though much easier with them.”[215] Watt
was, however, in error as to the nature of the Hornblowers’ engine, which
he discovered three days later, when he wrote Boulton,--

    [215] Watt to Boulton, 16th July, 1781.

  “The matter is this: Ever since the ungrateful, idle, insolent
  Hornblowers knew anything about our engines, they have laboured
  to evade our Act, and for that purpose have long been possessed
  of a copy of our specification. They made an attempt at Wheal
  Maid two years ago, by connecting two cylinders together and
  injecting into one of them, which did not succeed, although they
  had gathered together numbers of their friends in order to make
  a great exhibition. Since that, Jonathan the coppersmith, who,
  like Alexander of the like trade, hath done me much evil, has
  laboured close at some more successful evasion, which he says
  he has now completed and taken a patent for,--concerning which
  I hear as follows from public reports, propagated by Jethro’s
  confidants:--1st. That Jonathan Hornblower is the inventor and
  patentee; that Winwood, Jones and Company, of Bristol, are his
  partners and supporters with money (that Winwood was lately in
  this country on a sleeveless errand is certain); that they have
  made their model work to 14 lbs. on the inch, and expect it will
  work to 18 lbs. 2ndly. That they press the piston down by steam,
  and maintain they have a right to do so, because, say they, it
  can be proved that such was done before my patent. I suppose by
  this they allude to Gainsborough’s bauble, which, by-the-by, was
  _after_ the patent. If they do not mean this I am at a loss, as
  I now declare that I do not know of any one having done it before
  the patent except myself. However, it behoves us to inquire into
  this, and if the exhibition was not a public one it avails not.
  3rdly. That they pretend to condense the steam in the cylinder;
  but I have heard that they do it in a separate vessel within the
  cylinder, or close to it. 4thly. That they do not use an air or
  water pump, from which I conjecture that they let the hot water
  down the shaft by a pipe more than 30 feet long, as you know I
  proposed but had several objections to. You will remember, and I
  dare say Joseph and Peploe also do, that we made the 18-inch Soho
  cylinder work by blowing the hot water out of the eduction-pipe
  and used no air-pump, but found a waste of steam by so doing.
  There is also some confused report about a wheel being employed
  on their engine, which makes me suspect that M. Washborough may
  be the Bristol man concerned with them.”[216]

    [216] Watt to Boulton, 19th July, 1781. Boulton MSS.

Two days later Watt wrote,--“My principal hope is that almighty Nature
will prove Lord Chancellor, and put a negative on their scheme. Amen, so
be it! I abhor lawsuits, and reckon a cause half lost that is litigated.”

On the 23rd of July he returned to the subject:--

  “The Horners,” said he, “continue bragging of what they are to
  do, and I hear the country in general takes part with them, as
  even the aversion they have to the Horners does not equal the
  pleasure they would feel at our undoing.... The Horners say they
  can make a common engine equal to ours, but that their new engine
  is one-third better. We must now attend to making use of all the
  elastic power of the steam, which, unless I am much deceived,
  will save one-half over our best engines, and at any rate it may
  easily be applied to work the condenser, which will save about
  one-eighth. I will not conceal from you that I am rendered very
  unhappy by one thing and another, but fight with it all I can.”

In the mean time Boulton continued to urge Watt to complete the
specification and drawings of his rotative engine, informing him of the
success of the model which he had now completed at Soho:--

  “Though you studied a thousand years,” said he, “I do not think
  you could make one ten per cent. better than a small model with
  two cones which Joseph has executed after my drawings. It has
  little friction, goes sweeter than anything of the kind you have
  yet touched, and has not the least shake. It is so perfect that
  I don’t consider it worth while even to think of any other for
  horizontal motions. I am therefore positively decided in my mind
  as to the necessity of taking out a patent and including in it
  all the principles and constructions you please; for if it be not
  secured soon we may lose it.”[217]

    [217] Boulton to Watt, 28th June, 1781. On the 3rd July following
      he writes,--“The great rotative engine is finished, and I
      expected the union between it and the little engine would have
      been performed this evening, but it can’t be till to-morrow.
      Robert set the elliptic out so true that it had no shake and
      required no alteration. It goes so much better than the little
      model made by Joseph that I am now ashamed to send the little
      one. The great model makes a delightful horizontal foot-lathe. I
      gave it a few strokes with my foot, and it made 30 revolutions
      after I withdrew it, and that in a quiet and peaceable manner,
      which shows how steady and frictionless it is.”

In the same letter, Boulton communicated to Watt the rumours that had
reached him from Scotland of more inventions of engines that were to beat
Watt’s out of the field. “The cry is still, they come!” said he. “Hatley
from Scotland is going with Lord Dunmore to Virginny; says that he and
somebody else in Scotland have invented an engine that is three times
better than yours.” Boulton recommended that a search should be made at
the Patent-Office, to ascertain what was going on in new engine patents.
Watt entirely approved of this, and urged that the search should be made
at once. “I do not think we are safe a day to an end,” he wrote, “in
this enterprising age. One’s thoughts seem to be stolen before one speaks
them. It looks as if Nature had taken an aversion to monopolies, and put
the same thing into several people’s heads at once to prevent them; and
I begin to fear that she has given over inspiring me, as it is with the
utmost difficulty that I can hatch anything new.”

Notwithstanding this confession on the part of Watt, his inventive
faculties were really never at any period of his life more vigorous than
now; for he was rapidly maturing his rotative engine, with its various
ingenious methods for securing circular motion; and working out the
details of the double-cylinder expansion engine, with its many admirable
contrivances hereafter to be described. Boulton continued to receive
applications at Soho, from various quarters, for engines capable of
working flour-mills and other machinery, and Watt himself was urged by
like inquiries from manufacturers in Cornwall. “Mr. Edwards,” he wrote
Boulton, “waits impatiently the success of our rotative machine. He
wants a power able to lift a hammer of 700 lbs., 2 feet high, 120 times
per minute.... In relation to the circular engine, an experiment should
be made on a large scale, and to work a hammer. I want your ideas on
that head.”[218] A fortnight later, Watt had matured his own ideas, and
made the necessary declaration of his invention before a magistrate,
preliminary to making the usual application for a patent.[219]

    [218] Watt to Boulton, 5th July, 1781.

    [219] “Yesterday I went to Penryn and swore that I had invented
      ‘certain new methods of applying the vibrating or reciprocating
      motion of steam or fire engines to produce a continued rotation
      or circular motion round an axis or centre, and thereby to
      give motion to the wheels of mills or other machines,’ which
      affidavit and petition I transmit to Mr. Hadley by this post
      with directions to get it passed with all due expedition.”--Watt
      to Boulton, 26th July, 1781.

Watt was exceedingly busy about this time in superintending the erection
of new engines. No fewer than twelve were in progress in different
parts of the county. As he travelled about from one mine to another on
horseback, and spent a good deal of his time in the open air, his mind
was diverted from preying upon itself according to his ordinary habit,
and his health and spirits improved accordingly. Boulton was equally
busy at Soho, where he was erecting a powerful engine for blowing the
furnaces at Walker’s ironworks at Rotherham, and another for Wilkinson’s
forges at Bradley, in which he proposed to employ a double cylinder,
with a double crank[220] and a pair of fly-wheels. At intervals he went
into Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Shropshire, to look after various other
engines in progress; writing Watt cheerful letters as to the improving
prospects of the firm. He found the steam-engine everywhere gaining in
public estimation. “The more it is known,” he wrote, “the more it will be
in demand. As to the scheme of the Hornblowers, they shall sooner press me
down into the earth than they shall press down a piston with steam.” And
again, “Give yourself no uneasiness about the Horners’ engine. Our title
to the invention is as clear as can be; and it is as well secured as an
Act of Parliament can make it--

  “Doubt that the sun is fire,
  Doubt all the powers of sight,
  Doubt truth to be a lyer,
  But never doubt our right.”

    [220] Watt suggested caution as to making use of the cranks.
      “In relation to Wilkinson’s forges, I wish you would execute
      them without the double crank. We shall soon have a bad enough
      lawsuit on our hands without it.”--Watt to Boulton, 19th July,

Watt’s first surmise, that the Hornblowers intended to work their engine
by heated air or gas, had set Boulton upon a series of inquiries and
experiments on the subject, in which he was assisted by Dr. Priestley, who
had shortly before settled in Birmingham, and was a willing co-operator
in all investigations of this nature. Their object was to ascertain
whether it was practicable to produce mechanical power by the absorption
and condensation of gas on the one hand, and by its disengagement and
expansion on the other.

  “What you propose,” Watt wrote, “is exceeding probable, and akin
  to what I have long contemplated--the use of mixed air and steam,
  which have a wonderful expansion and contraction. Nevertheless,
  I fear that there is in all such cases a proportional assumption
  of latent heat; but be it tried though it be beginning a new
  series of vexations and expense.... I suspect that a forcible
  compression would hinder the gas from separating from the water,
  and on the contrary any tolerable degree of vacuum would hinder
  the water from attracting it; but perhaps part of both may be
  used.... My greatest hope is in the expansive engine with double
  or single cylinder, which I consider as proved by many facts,
  and shall send you my ideas of the execution of it very soon.
  At the same time I am clear to take the air patent, which, as I
  have worded the petition, may include some other improvements on
  the steam-engine.... I hope my last letters have relieved you, as
  the knowledge of the Horners’ being a steam-engine working on our
  principle relieved me. I have some trust in the judges, though I
  have little in the law; and I think impartial people will regard
  us as injured persons, and not suffer the thief of our horse to
  escape because he has painted him of another colour.”[221]

    [221] Watt to Boulton, 28th July, 1781. A few days later
      Boulton wrote Watt that Dr. Priestley had proceeded with the
      experiments, and that he had come to the conclusion that “there
      is nothing to be feared from any of the tribe of gases, which
      cannot be produced nearly so cheap as steam; and as to steam
      _you_ know its limits better than any man.”

Watt’s fears for his patent were about this time excited anew by the
great Arkwright trial, in which Arkwright was nonsuited, and compelled
to forego the rights derived from his improvements and combinations of
spinning-machinery. The principal ground on which the patent was set aside
was that the specification was unintelligible. On this, Watt observed,--

  “Though I do not love Arkwright, I don’t like the precedent of
  setting aside patents through default of specification. I fear
  for our own. The specification is not perfect according to the
  rules lately laid down by the judges. Nevertheless, it cannot be
  said that we have hid our candle under a bushel. We have taught
  all men to erect our engines, and are likely to suffer for our
  pains.... I begin to have little faith in patents; for, according
  to the enterprising genius of the present age, no man can have a
  profitable patent but it will be pecked at, and no man can write a
  specification of a fire-engine that cannot be evaded, if the words
  and not the true intent and meaning be attended to. As kissing
  goes by favour, and as, in dubious cases, men are actuated by
  their prejudices, so, where a blue is very like a green they may
  decide either way.”[222]

    [222] Watt to Boulton, 30th July, 1781. Later he wrote,--“I am
      tired of making improvements which by some quirk or wresting
      of the law may be taken from us, as I think has been done in
      the case of Arkwright, who has been condemned merely because
      he did not specify quite clearly. This was injustice, because
      it is plain that he has given this trade a being--has brought
      his invention into use and made it of great public utility.
      Wherefore he deserved all the money he has got. In my opinion
      his patent should not have been invalidated without it had
      clearly appeared that he did not invent the things in question.
      I fear we shall be served with the same sauce _for the good
      of the public_! and in that case I shall certainly do what
      he threatens. This you may be assured of, that we are as
      much envied here as he is at Manchester, and all the bells in
      Cornwall would be rung at our overthrow.”--Watt to Boulton, 13th
      August, 1781.

Watt continued to be alarmed by the rumours of the forthcoming
Hornblowers’ engine. “I have heard,” he wrote, “that a female confidant
of Jonathan’s has seen the engine, and says that they evaporate half a
hogshead of water with _one ounce_ of coals! ... that in a few days they
are to publish in print what their invention is, illustrated with a
copper-plate. Then we shall see and admire, if God pleaseth; I hope we
shall not believe and tremble.” Later he wrote,--“Our cause is good, and
yet it has a bad aspect. We are called monopolists, and exactors of money
from the people for nothing. Would to God the money and price of the time
the engine has cost us were in our pockets again, and the devil might then
have the draining of their mines in place of me. Yet all are not alike.
Some are just, and I believe do not grudge us, and some are friendly. All
this is to no purpose. The law must decide whether we have property in
this affair or not, and we must submit to what we cannot help.”[223]

At length Watt learnt the precise nature of the Hornblowers’ invention.
“It is no less,” he wrote Boulton, “than our double-cylinder engine,
worked upon our principle of expansion.” This was an old idea of Watt’s,
which he had pursued while labouring upon his model at Kinneil. “It is
fourteen years,” he said, “since I thought of the double-cylinder engine,
and I think that I mentioned it to Mr. Smeaton, when I explained the
expansion engine to him in your parlour, some years ago. Wm. Murdock
and Mr. Henderson can testify to my having mentioned it to them; but
this of the Horners seems to be a different thing, being hung on the
same beam.”[224] As early as May, 1769, he had communicated to Dr.
Small a clear and explicit description of his method of working steam
expansively; and he adopted the principle in the Soho engine, in 1778, as
well as in the Shadwell engine erected in the same year. He was, however,
prevented carrying it out extensively in practice by the inexpertness
of the workmen. “Though the effect of the steam,” he explained to a
correspondent, “is thereby increased 50 per cent. (by theory 100 per
cent.), it cannot be done without rendering the machine more complicated
than we wish; and simplicity is a most essential point in mechanics.
There are other contrivances known to us which would increase the effect
in an inferior degree, say from one-fourth to one-sixth, but they are
all attended with peculiar inconveniences which forbid their use until
the illiterate and obstinate people who are intrusted with the care
of the engines become more intelligent and better acquainted with the

    [223] Watt to Boulton, 13th November, 1781.

    [224] Watt to Boulton, 19th November, 1781.

    [225] Watt to Samuel Ewer, jun., 9th July, 1781. Boulton MSS.

Though suffering much from his usual headaches, which frequently disabled
him from thinking, Watt finished the drawings of the rotary engine in a
week, and forwarded them to Boulton at Soho. “I believe,” he said in a
later letter, “a well-regulated expansive-engine is the _ne plus ultra_
of our art.” But he intimated that a new trouble had come upon him in the
shape of another inventor of a steam-engine in which all the distinctive
principles of his own invention were embodied. “If he be engine mad,”
said Watt, “and if it be agreeable to you, he shall have my share of
them, provided he will come to my price. I wish to retire, and eat my
cake in peace, but will not go without the cake. All mankind seem to have
resolved to rob us. Right or wrong, they _will_ pluck the meal from our
mouths.”[226] Boulton, on his next journey to London, called upon the
alleged inventor, a Mr. Ewer, and declared to Watt that the invention, so
far as it was new, was not worth a farthing, and that all that was good in
it was borrowed from their engine. “Though the white marks on your cow or
your horse,” said he, “may be changed to black, the cow and horse are not
the less your property.” He therefore counselled Watt to relieve himself
of all anxiety on this account. Watt replied, “Ewer seems to have a genius
more capable of inventing than of prudently examining the merits of his
invention. Poets lose half the praise they would otherwise get did they
but tell us what they discreetly blot. We must publish a book of blots.”

    [226] Watt to Boulton, 30th August, 1781.


[By R. P. Leitch.]]

Meanwhile Watt went on inventing, even while he was complaining of his
inability to invent, and of the uselessness of inventing. Invention had
grown into a habit with him, which he could not restrain. In the very
letter in which he wrote “It is of no use inventing--everybody is seizing
upon our schemes,” he communicated to Boulton that he had contrived a
machine, then erecting at Dalcoath, for the purpose of stopping the engine
when at full speed, when any accident happened to the rods or outside
chains,--first taking away the power, and then holding the bob fast
whenever it might be at the turn.[227] A few days later he communicated
that he had contrived a new way of opening the regulators. He was also
finishing his plan of the new equalising beam, and the double expansion
engine, which he requested might be proceeded with at once. “I have shown
the equalising beam,” said he, “to no person whatever. Please push it
on. It is our _dernier ressort_, and may perhaps be all that villany will
leave us, and that not long.”[228] Boulton wrote back, bidding his partner
to be of good heart. “If our spirits don’t fail us,” said he, “I think
our engine won’t.”

    [227] Watt to Boulton, 30th August, 1781. In a subsequent letter
      he explained the invention as follows:--“The method I propose
      to stop an engine when the pump rods break is by means of an
      air bellows or forcing pump of a good large diameter fixed in
      the shaft and having a solid piston in it which is wrought
      constantly by the engine and quite easily while it goes at
      its ordinary speed, because there is a large valve open in
      its bottom or rather top, which suffers the air to pass and
      repass easily; but whenever the engine attempts to move quick,
      that valve shuts and all exit from the air is cut off, and
      it becomes a feather-bed to save the blow of the engine. This
      is exemplified by turning the valve-hole of a common bellows
      upwards and stopping the nozzle, then working the bellows
      first slowly and then quickly. I think this contrivance will
      be of great use and may prevent damage, especially those bangs
      which occur in setting on an engine.”--Watt to Boulton, 27th
      September, 1781.

    [228] Boulton to Watt, 10th September, 1781. Boulton immediately
      proceeded with the erection of the new engine as secretly as
      possible. “The principles of the expansion engine,” said he
      to Watt, “you had invented before Dr. Small died, as Mr. Keir
      can testify as well as others. However, it is highly proper to
      execute every kind of beam that can be devised for the purpose
      of equalising the power. I have removed the little portions
      into the wooden house next the smith’s shop, and have blinded
      the window and barred the door. There is a convenient well
      that can be filled from the back brook, and the engine may be
      applied to the raising of water, which is the best sort of load
      to calculate from.”

At the same time Watt was inventing his new jointed top-working gear,
which he reported answered exceedingly well with the Dalcoath engine; and,
in pursuance of an idea thrown out by Boulton, he perfected the model
of a horizontal-axled elliptical with one pulley, which he described
as performing _à merveille_, being free from all untoward frictions. He
was also busy inventing a new method of an equalising beam, by causing
the gudgeon to change its place; and another by means of a roller acting
upon a curve in the nature of the working gear. Besides his experiments
in mechanics, he was prosecuting investigations as to the properties of
nutgalls in combination with various chemical substances, for the purpose
of obtaining the best kind of ink for use with his copying machines; and
at another time we find him contriving various iron cements for joints,
confessing that he had “lost all faith in putty;” the result of which was
his discovery of the well-known metallic cement.

In the correspondence between the partners on these various topics, we
seem to see the ideas out of which so many inventions grew, in their
various stages of birth, growth and development. They concealed nothing
from each other, but wrote with the most perfect unreserve. Each improved
on the other’s ideas,--Watt upon Boulton’s, and Boulton upon Watt’s; both
experimenting on the same subject at the same time, and communicating
the results in the most elaborate detail. The phrase often occurs in
their letters: “I write thus fully _that you may see exactly what is
passing in my mind_.” The letters were sometimes of extraordinary length,
one of Boulton’s (dated 25th September, 1781) extending to eight pages
folio, closely written, containing upwards of 4000 words. Scarcely a day
passed without their spending several hours in writing to each other.
Boulton also kept up a correspondence with Mrs. Watt, in addition to his
elaborate letters to her husband. The lady entered into various matters
of personal interest, describing her occupations and domestic pursuits,
and communicating the state of her husband’s health, which was a matter
of no less interest to Boulton than to herself.

As the autumn set in with its fogs and rains, Watt’s headaches returned
with increased severity, and he repeatedly complained to Boulton of being
“stupid and ill, and scarcely able to think.” “I tremble,” said he, “at
the thought of making a complete set of drawings. I wish you could find me
out a draughtsman of abilities; as I cannot stand it much longer.”[229]
Watt’s temper was also affected by the state of his health; and he
confessed that he felt himself not at all cut out for the work he had
to do, so far as related to business: “I am not philosopher enough,” he
said, “to despise the ills of life; and when I suffer myself to get into
a passion, I observe it hurts me more than it does anybody else. I never
was cut out for business, and wish nothing so much as not to be obliged
to do any; which perhaps will never fall to my lot; therefore I must drag
on a miserable existence the best way I can.”[230]

    [229] Watt to Boulton, 20th September, 1781.

    [230] Watt to Boulton, 18th October, 1781.

Watt was very busy at this time in preparing the specification and
drawings of the circular motion, which he said he found an extremely
difficult job owing to the distracted state of his head. The letters
patent for the invention had been secured on the 25th October, 1781,
and he had four months allowed him in which to prepare and lodge the
full description. He laboured at his work late and early, his mind being
for months in the throes of invention. In the beginning of November we
find him writing to Boulton, sending him the “first three yards of the
specification,” written out on folio sheets joined together. Watt’s
letters to his partner at this time contain numerous rough sketches of
his proposed methods for securing circular motion without using the crank,
from which he conceived himself to be in a measure precluded by Pickard’s
patent. He devised no fewer than five distinct methods by which this
object might be accomplished, by means of wheels of various sorts rotating
round an axis. The method eventually preferred was the one invented by
Wm. Murdock, and commonly known as the sun and planet motion.[231] “It has
the singular property,” said Watt, “of going twice round for each stroke
of the engine, and may be made to go oftener round if required without
additional machinery.”

    [231] Watt, in a letter to Boulton, dated the 3rd July, 1782,
      speaks of it as an old plan of his own “revived and executed
      by William Murdock;” but we were informed by the late Mr.
      Josiah Parkes, that at an interview which he had with Mr. Watt
      at Heathfield, at which Murdock was present, Murdock spoke of
      the Sun and Planet motion as his invention, which Watt did not
      contradict. Boulton also attributed the invention to Murdock, as
      appears from his letter to Henderson, dated 22nd January, 1782;
      in which he says,--“Mr. Watt’s packet is not ready. I am to wait
      till his drawings [of the rotatory motion] are completed, which
      he is executing himself. There was some informality in those
      sent from Soho. Besides, he has another rotative scheme to add,
      which I could have told him of long ago, when first invented
      by William Murdock, but I did not think it a matter of much

[Illustration: SUN AND PLANET MOTION.]

Rough sketches of these various methods were forwarded to Soho in order
that the requisite careful drawings of them might be prepared in time to
be lodged with the specification; but when they reached Watt in Cornwall,
he declared them to be so clumsily executed that he could not for very
shame send them in; and though greatly pressed by mining business, and
suffering from “backache, headache, and lowness of spirits,” he set to
work to copy them with his own hands. He worked up his spare time so
diligently, that in ten days he had the plans finished and returned to
Boulton, whom he wrote saying that he had improved the construction of
several of the machines, and “got one copy of the specification drawing
finished in an elegant manner upon vellum, being the neatest drawing he
had ever made.”[232] The necessary measures being then taken to perfect
the patent, it was duly enrolled on the 23rd February, 1782.

During the time that Watt was busy completing the above specification
and drawings, his mind was full of other projects, one of which was the
perfecting of his new expansive engine.[233] It is curious to find him, in
his letters to Boulton, anticipating the plan of superheating the steam
before entering the cylinders, which has since been carried into effect
with so much success.

    [232] Watt to Boulton, 26th Jan., 1782.

    [233] “I have some time ago thought,” wrote Watt, “of a new
      expansive engine--a reciprocating engine with a heavy circular
      fly moved by a pinion from the end of the beam, so as to
      make three turns per down-stroke and as many contrariwise per
      return; so that in the first half of the stroke it may acquire
      a momentum which will carry it through the last half; and if a
      weight equal to half the load be put upon the inner end of the
      beam, and the engine be made to lift it during the return, by
      making a vacuum above the piston and using a rack instead of
      a chain, a cylinder of the present size may work to the same
      depth by half the steam; and I believe the engine will work very
      sweetly.”--Watt to Boulton, 16th January, 1782.

By the middle of March he had sufficiently matured his ideas of a
reciprocating expansive engine to enable him to take out letters patent,
and the invention was enrolled on the 4th of July in the same year. It
included the double engine and double-acting engine (steam pressing
the piston upwards as well as downwards), the employment of steam on
the expansive principle, various methods of equalising the power of
the engine, the toothed rack and sector for guiding the piston-rod,
and a rotative engine or steam-wheel. While perfecting these beautiful
adaptations, Watt was often plunged in the depths of distress through
many causes,--by sickness, headaches, and low spirits; by the pecuniary
difficulties of the firm; by the repeated attempts of the Cornish miners
to lower their dues; and by threatened invasions of his patent from all
quarters. Another of his worries was the unsteadiness of his workmen.
His letters to Boulton were full of complaints on this score. Excepting
Wm. Murdock, who was in constant demand, there was scarcely one of them
on whom he could place reliance. “We have very little credit, indeed,”
said he, “in our Soho workmen. James Taylor has taken to dram-drinking
at a most violent rate,--is obstinate, self-willed, and dissatisfied.”
And again, “Cartwright’s engine has been a continued scene of botching
and blunders. J. Smith and the rest are ignorant, and all of them must
be looked at daily, or worse follows. Had I had any one man of common
prudence and experience, who would have attended from morning till night,
these things might have been avoided, and my life would have been more
comfortable. As things are, it is much otherwise.”[234] Three months
later, matters had not mended. J. Smith is pronounced “a very slow
hand,” and “J. Taylor is sometimes three days together at the alehouse,
except when he judged I should be going my rounds.... Dick Cartwright
also continues too much devoted to beer.... I have read all our men
lectures upon industry and good hours, though I fear it will not be to
much purpose; idleness is ingrained in their constitution.”[235] Boulton
wrote to him to “send home the most rascally of the Sohoites;” but this
was impracticable, as better men to replace them were not at that time
to be had. Things were quite as bad at Soho itself; for early in 1782 we
find Boulton writing thus: “The forging-shop wants a total reformation;
Peploe and others constantly drunk; spoke mildly to them at first,
then threatened, and am now looking out for good hands, which are very

    [234] Watt to Boulton, 20th September, 1781.

    [235] Watt to Boulton, 20th December, 1781.

    [236] Boulton to Watt, 26th March, 1782. The following was
      Boulton’s method of dealing with a refractory and drunken
      workman:--“I told you in my former letters how Jim Taylor had
      gone on,--that I had talked to him in a friendly way but all
      to no purpose. He came last Monday evening to the smith’s shop,
      drank more ale, was sent for, and he became abusive to the men,
      saying we had nobody could work well but himself, and that we
      could not do without him. The next morning I went into the
      shop predetermined to part with him. I stopped the noise of
      bellows and hammers, and appealed to the jury of the shop for
      the justice of my determination, and made the best use I could
      of the example. I sent Taylor off with deserved contempt, and
      to convince him that we really could do without him. However we
      are very much behind hand in nozzles.”--Boulton to Watt, 19th
      April, 1782.

William Murdock was by far the ablest and most efficient of the Soho
men, and won golden opinions in all quarters; so much so, that he was in
constant request. We find him described as “flying from mine to mine,”
putting the engines to rights. If anything went wrong, Murdock was
immediately sent for. He was active, quick-sighted, shrewd, indefatigable,
and an excellent workman. His wages, down to 1780, were only 20_s._ a
week, and, thinking himself worth more, he asked for an advance to two
guineas. Boulton, instead of refusing, adroitly managed to obtain a
present of ten guineas from the owners of the United Mines, to which he
added other ten, in acknowledgment of the admirable manner in which he
had erected their new engine; Mr. Beauchamp, the Chairman of the Company,
having publicly declared that “he regarded William as the most obliging
and industrious workman he had ever known.” Though Murdock’s wages were
not then raised, and though Bonze, the Cornish engineer--a man of means
as well as of skill and experience--invited him to join in an engineering
partnership, William remained loyal to the Boulton and Watt firm, and in
due time he had his reward.

Murdock’s popularity with the Cornishmen increased so much that Watt
seems to have grown somewhat jealous of him, for when William was to
be had, they preferred him to Watt himself.[237] At Wheal Virgin, the
adventurers insisted upon having him all to themselves; but this was not
practicable, as there were other engines in progress requiring constant
attention,--Wheal Crenver, which Watt described as “in the enemy’s
country, Pool hardly completed yet, and Dalcoath in its childhood.”

    [237] “To-day was account day at Wheal Virgin, when there was
      nothing remarkable, only that Mr. Phillips insisted upon William
      Murdock being wholly at Wheal Virgin, which I told him could
      not possibly be complied with, unless I went to Crenver in his
      place, as I had nobody else to send thither; nevertheless, that
      William should be here as much as possible. This did not satisfy
      him, and I know not what to do, as Crenver will be ready to work
      in three weeks and must not be delayed.... I think my personal
      attendance should satisfy Wheal Virgin adventurers, but as they
      seem to have more confidence in William, I will for peace’s sake
      yield to their will, being satisfied that William will do the
      business well.”--Watt to Boulton, 15th November, 1781.

  “I cannot now leave Wheal Virgin a single day,” wrote Watt,
  “without running the risk of some vile blunder, particularly as
  the boilers are now setting. Wm. Murdock was at Wheal Virgin one
  day this week, and that day was taken up with Mr. Wedgwood,[238]
  so that it was partly lost. Yesterday he was taken away by Crenver
  people and is not returned. I fear I cannot get much of his help,
  and I assure you I need it much, for there cannot be a greater
  plague than to have five engines making by ignorant men and no
  helpmate to look after them. I have been tolerably well these few
  days, but cannot get up my spirits, from having too much to think

    [238] One of the pleasantest events that occurred to Watt in the
      course of his stay in Cornwall, was the visit of Wedgwood, who
      had come to inspect some of the mines in which, on Boulton’s
      recommendation, he had taken an interest, and at the same time
      to search for clays for use in his earthenware and porcelain
      manufacture at Etruria. “Mr. Wedgwood,” he wrote Boulton, “has
      been in this country some days hunting clays and soap rocks,
      cobalts, &c. I have had two visits of him at the expense of a
      day and a half. Nevertheless I don’t grudge that, as I am glad
      to see a Christian. He has just left me.”--Watt to Boulton, 18th
      October, 1781.

Combined with the troubles arising out of the perversities, blunderings,
and bad conduct of his workmen, Watt had also to struggle against torment
of mind and body, aggravated by bad news from home. Boulton was in the
crisis of his troubles with his partner Fothergill, from which he was
desperately struggling to shake himself free.[239]

    [239] Fothergill died insolvent in 1782. Notwithstanding what
      he had suffered by the connexion, Boulton acted with great
      generosity towards Fothergill’s family, providing for his
      widow and orphan children. “Whatever the conduct of any part
      of that family towards me may have been,” said he, “their
      present distresses turn every passion into tender pity. I waited
      upon Mrs. Fothergill this morning, and administered all the
      consolation that words could give, but I must do more, or their
      distresses will be great indeed. I never wished for life and
      health so fervently as at present; for I consider it my duty
      to act as a father to that family to the best of my power, and
      the addition of a widow and seven children is no small one.”
      Boulton was as good as his promises; and he not only helped the
      Fothergill family through their difficulties, but he undertook
      to pay an annual sum (though under no obligation to do so)
      to a Mrs. Swellingrebel--a widowed lady from whom Fothergill
      had obtained money which he lost; and who, but for Boulton’s
      generous help, must have been left destitute.

Watt was made additionally miserable by the state of the bankers’ account,
which was still overdrawn to a very large amount. The bankers were urgent
for repayment, but neither of the partners saw where the money was to come
from. Watt again thought of giving up altogether, and selling his share
of the business as the only means of relief which presented itself.

  “I am almost moved,” he wrote, “if Lowe, Vere, and Williams
  will free me from any demands on my future industry, to give
  up my present property altogether, and trust to Providence for
  my support. I cannot live as I am with any degree of comfort.
  The want of the superfluities of life is a trifle compared
  with continual anxiety. I do not see how you can pay L. V. &
  W. 1000_l._ per quarter; I am sure it cannot be from the engine
  business, unless we can reduce the amount of our general expenses
  to 0 and live upon air ourselves.... Though you and I should
  entirely lose this business and all its profits, you will get
  quit of a burdensome debt; and as both of us lived before it had
  a being, so we may do afterwards. Therefore consider what can be
  done, and do it without reluctance, or with as little as you can;
  and depend upon it that I am sincerely your friend, and shall push
  you to nothing that I do not think to be for your advantage.”[240]

Two days later, while still in a heavily desponding humour, he wrote

  “If matters were to come to the worst, many methods may be fallen
  upon whereby we may preserve some consequence in the world. A
  hundred hours of melancholy will not pay one farthing of debt.
  Summon up your fortitude and try to turn your attention to
  business, and to correct the abuses at Soho.... All the idlers
  should be told that in case they persevere in want of attention,
  then dismission must ensue.... The Soho part of the business has
  been somehow a perpetual drain to us, and if it cannot be put on
  a better footing, must be cut off altogether by giving out the
  work to be done by others.”[241]

    [240] Watt to Boulton, 16th March, 1782.

    [241] Watt to Boulton, 18th March, 1782.

To add to their troubles, a fire broke out in the house of Boulton and
Watt’s London agent for the sale of their copying machines, and the
building, with its contents, was burnt to the ground, thereby causing a
loss to the firm of above a thousand pounds. The mining trade was also
wretchedly bad in Cornwall, several of the more important mines being
unproductive, while ore was selling at low prices. The adventurers were
accordingly urging Watt to abate the agreed dues for the use of their
engines, and in several cases threatened to close the mines unless he
did so. The United Mines asked to be reduced 50_l._ a month. Watt having
refused to make the abatement, the mine was ordered to be stopped, on
which he consented to give up the dues altogether for a period of six
months. “There seemed,” he wrote to Boulton, “to be no other course, if
we would maintain our right, and at the same time do justice to the poor
people, who must otherwise absolutely starve, and are already riotously
disposed through the stopping of Wheal Virgin.”[242] “In short,” said he,
“almost the whole county is against us, and look upon us as oppressors
and tyrants, from whose power they believe the horned imps of Satan are
to relieve them.” Watt was indeed thoroughly sick of Cornwall, and longed
to get back to Birmingham. He confessed he did not see how, under the
present state of things, he could be of any more use there. The weather
was very tempestuous, and he felt the fatigue of travelling from mine
to mine too much for him to endure. On the 4th of April he wrote,--“I
returned from the coast to Cosgarne last night with an aching head, after
a peregrination of two days in very stormy weather.” “Upon the whole,”
he wrote to Boulton, “I look upon our present Cornish prospects as very
bad, and would not have you build too much upon them nor upon the engine
business, without some material change. I shall think it prudent to
look out for some other way of livelihood, as I expect that this will
be swallowed up in merely paying its burdens.”[243] Watt, accordingly,
finding that he could do no more good in Cornwall, left it about the
middle of April, and returned with an aching head and heavy heart to

    [242] Watt to Boulton, 27th March, 1782.

    [243] Watt to Boulton, 30th March, 1782.



The battle of the firm had hitherto been all up-hill. Nearly twenty years
had passed since Watt had made his invention. His life since then had
been a constant struggle, and it was a struggle still. Thirteen years had
passed since the original patent had been taken out, and seven since the
Act had been passed for its extension. But the engine had as yet yielded
no profit, and the outlay of capital continued. Notwithstanding Boulton’s
energy and resources, the partners were often in the greatest straits
for money, and sometimes, as Saturday nights came round, they had to beat
about among their friends for the means of paying the workmen’s wages.

Though Watt continued to imagine himself on the brink of ruin, things
were not really so gloomy as he supposed. We find Boulton stating
in a confidential letter to Matthews, that the dues payable on the
pumping-engines actually erected in 1782 amounted to 4320_l._ a year;
and that when all the engines in progress had been finished, they would
probably amount to about 9000_l._ It is true, the dues were paid with
difficulty by the mining interest, still in a state of great depression,
but Boulton looked forward with confidence to better days coming round.
Indeed, he already saw his way through the difficulties of the firm, and
encouraged his doleful partner to hope that in the course of a very few
years more, they would be rid of their burdens.

As Cornwall was, however, now becoming well supplied with pumping-engines,
it became necessary to open up new branches of business to keep the
Soho manufactory in full work. With this object, Boulton became more and
more desirous of applying the engine to the various purposes of rotary
motion. In one of his visits to Wales, in 1781, he had seen a powerful
copper-rolling mill driven by water, and when told that its defect was
that it was liable to be stopped in summer during drought, he immediately
asked--“Why not use our engine? It goes night and day, summer and winter,
and is altogether unaffected by drought.” Immediately on his return
home, he made a model of a steam rolling-mill, with two cylinders and two
beams, connecting the power by a horizontal axis; and by the end of the
year he had a steam forge erected at Soho on this plan. “It answers very
well,” he wrote to Matthews, “and astonishes all the ironmasters; for,
although it is a small engine, it draws even more steel per day than a
large rolling-mill in this neighbourhood draws by water.” Mr. Wilkinson
was so much pleased with it that he ordered one to be made on a large
scale for the Bradley ironworks; and another was shortly after ordered
for Rotherham. But the number of iron mills was exceedingly limited,
and Boulton did not anticipate any large extension of business in that
quarter. If, however, he could once get the rotary engine introduced as
the motive power for corn and flour mills, he perceived that the demand
would be considerable. Writing to Watt on the subject, he said, “When
Wheal Virgin is at work, and all the Cornish business is in good train,
we must look out for orders, as all our treaties are seemingly at an end,
having none now upon the tapis. There is no other Cornwall to be found,
and the most likely line for increasing the consumption of our engines is
the application of them to mills, which is certainly an extensive field.”

Watt, on his return to Birmingham from Cornwall, proceeded to embody his
plan for securing rotary motion in a working engine, so that he might be
enabled to exhibit the thing in actual work. He was stimulated to action
by the report which reached his ears that a person in Birmingham had
set agoing a self-moving steam rotator, in imitation of his, on which he
exclaimed, “Surely the Devil of Rotations is afoot! I hope he will whirl
them into Bedlam or Newgate.”[244] Boulton, who had by this time gone
to Cornwall for the winter, wrote to him from Cosgarne, “It is certainly
expensive; but nevertheless I think, as we have so much at stake, that we
should proceed to execute such rotatives as you have specified.... You
should get a good workman or two to execute your ideas with despatch,
lest they perish. The value of their wages for a year might be 100_l._,
but it would be the means of our keeping the start that we now have of
all others. But above all, there is nothing of more importance than
the perfect completion of the double expansive reciprocating engine
as soon as may be.”[245] Watt replied that he was busily occupied in
getting the rotative motion applied to one of the Soho engines. “These
rotatives,” said he, “have taken up all my time and attention for months,
so that I can scarcely say that I have done anything which can be called
business. Our accounts lie miserably confused. We are going on in a very
considerable weekly expense at Soho, and I can see nothing likely to be
produced from it which will be an equivalent.” Speaking of the prospect
of further improvements, he added, “It is very possible that, excepting
what can be done in improving the mechanics of the engine, nothing much
better than we have already done will be allowed by Nature, who has fixed
a _ne plus ultra_ in most things.”[246]

    [244] Watt to Boulton, 19th September, 1782.

    [245] Boulton to Watt, 28th September, 1782.

    [246] Watt to Boulton, 3rd October, 1782.

While thus hopelessly proceeding with the rotative engine, Watt was
disquieted by the intelligence which reached him from Boulton, as to
the untoward state of affairs in Cornwall. At some of the most important
mines, in which Boulton and Watt held shares, the yield had considerably
fallen off, and the price of the ores being still very low, they had
in a great measure ceased to be remunerative. Hence appeals were made
to Boulton on all sides for an abatement of the engine dues. Unwilling
to concede this, the adventurers proceeded to threaten him with the
Hornblowers, whose engine they declared their intention of adopting.
As, however, Boulton and Watt’s engines were all going exceedingly well,
and as the Hornblowers had not yet been able to get one of their boasted
engines to work satisfactorily,[247] the adventurers hesitated for the
present to take any overt steps in the matter.

    [247] “On my road to this place (Cosgarne) I stayed two days at
      Bristol in order to learn the particulars of Hornblower’s new
      engine erected in that neighbourhood, and I had the satisfaction
      to find that it is worse than a common engine, although made
      upon our principles; but from the various evasions introduced it
      is as bad as need be. Nevertheless I think we should stop it in
      order to stop the effects of the numerous lies they propagate
      in this county, and other mischiefs.”--Boulton to Watt, 30th
      September, 1782.

Boulton had a long and disagreeable battle to fight with the adventurers
on this point, which lasted for many months, during which the Hornblowers
continued to stimulate them with the agreeable prospect of getting rid
of the dues payable in respect of the savings of fuel by the condensing
engines. Boulton resisted them at every point single-handed; the battle
being, as he said, “Boulton and Watt against all Cornwall.”[248] He kept
Watt fully informed from day to day of all that passed, and longed for
more rapid means of communication,--the postal service being then so
defective that no less than thirteen days elapsed before Boulton, at
Truro, could receive an answer from Watt at Birmingham. On one occasion
we find Watt’s letter eleven days on the road between the two places.
The partners even had fears that their letters were tampered with in
transit; and, in order to carry on their correspondence confidentially,
Watt proposed to employ a shorthand alphabet, which he had learnt from
Dr. Priestley, in which to write at least the names of persons, “as our
correspondence,” he observed, “ought to be managed with all possible
secrecy, especially as to names.”

    [248] “I don’t know a man in Cornwall amongst the adventurers,”
      he wrote, “but what would think it patriotism to free the mines
      from the tribute they pay to us, and thereby divide our rights
      amongst their own dear selves. Nevertheless, let us keep our
      tempers, and keep the firm hold we have got; let us do justice,
      show mercy and walk humbly, and all, I hope, will be right at
      last.”--Boulton to Watt, 2nd November, 1782.

Boulton, as usual, led a very active life in Cornwall. Much of his time
was occupied in riding from mine to mine, inspecting the engines at work,
and superintending the erection of others. The season being far advanced,
the weather was bad, and the roads miry; but, wet or dry, he went his
rounds. In one of his letters he gives an account of a miserable journey
home on horseback, on a certain rainy, windy, dark night in November, when
he was “caught in water up to 12 hands.” “It is very disagreeable,” he
adds, “that one cannot stay out till dark upon the most emergent business
without risking one’s life.” But once at home he was happy. “The greatest
comfort I find here,” he says, “is in being shut out from the world, and
the world from me. At the same time I have quite as much visiting as I
wish for.” One of his favourite amusements was collecting and arranging
fossils, some for his friend Wedgwood, and others for his own “fossilry”
at Soho. Boulton was well supported out of doors by William Murdock, now
regarded as “the right hand” of the concern in Cornwall.

  “Murdock hath been indefatigable,” he wrote Watt, “ever since
  they began [at Wheal Virgin new Engine]. He has scarcely been in
  bed or taken necessary food.... After slaving day and night on
  Thursday and Friday, a letter came from Wheal Virgin that he must
  go instantly to set their engine to work or they would let out
  the fire. He went and set the engine to work: it worked well for
  the five or six hours he remained. He left it and returned to the
  Consolidated Mines about eleven at night, and was employed about
  the engines till four this morning, and then went to bed. I found
  him at ten this morning in Poldice Cistern, seeking for pins and
  casters that had jumped out, when I insisted on his going home to

    [249] Boulton to Watt, 30th September, 1782.

On one occasion, when an engine superintended by Murdock stopped through
some accident occurring to it, the water rose in the mine, and the miners
were drowned out. Upon this occurring, they came “roaring at him” for
having thrown them out of work, and threatened to tear him to pieces.
Nothing daunted, he went through the midst of the men, and proceeded to
the invalided engine, which he succeeded in very shortly repairing and
setting to work again. The miners were so rejoiced that they were carried
by their feelings into the opposite extreme; and when he came out of the
engine-house they cheered him vociferously, and insisted upon carrying
him home on their shoulders in triumph!

About this time, Boulton became increasingly anxious to ascertain what
the Hornblowers were doing. They continued to brag of the extraordinary
powers of the engine erected by them at Radstoke, near Bristol, whither he
proposed to go, to ascertain its construction and qualities, as well as to
warn the persons who were employing them as to the consequences of their
infringing the existing patent. But he was tied to Cornwall by urgent
business, and could not leave his post for a day. “During the forking
of these two great mines,” said he, “I dare not stir two miles from the
spot, and it will yet be six weeks before I regain my liberty.”[250] He
determined, therefore, to send over James Law, a Soho man on whom he could
rely, to ascertain, if possible, the character of the new engine, and he
also asked his partner Watt to wait upon the proprietors of Radstoke so
soon as he could make it convenient to do so. Law accordingly proceeded to
Radstoke, and soon found out where the engine was; but as the Horners were
all in the neighbourhood, keeping watch and ward over it turn and turn
about, he was unable to see it except through the engine-house window,
when it was not working. He learnt, however, that there was something
seriously wrong with it, and that the engineers were considerably
crestfallen about its performances.

    [250] Boulton to Watson of Bristol, 7th November, 1782.

Watt proceeded to Bristol, as recommended by his partner, for the purpose
of having a personal interview with Hornblower’s employers. On his
arrival, he found that Major Tucker, the principal partner, was absent;
and though he succeeded in seeing Mr. Hill, another of the partners, he
could get no satisfactory reply from him as to the intentions of the firm
with respect to the new engine. Having travelled a hundred miles on his
special errand, Watt determined not to return to Birmingham until he had
seen the principal partner. On inquiry he found that Major Tucker had gone
to Bath, and thither Watt followed him. At Bath he found that the Major
had gone to Melcompton. Watt took a chaise and followed him. The Major
was out hunting; and Watt waited impatiently at a little alehouse in the
village till three o’clock, when the Major returned--“a potato-faced,
chuckle-headed fellow, with a scar on the pupil of one eye. In short,”
said Watt, “I did not like his physiog.” After shortly informing the Major
of the object of his visit, who promised to bring the subject under the
notice of his partners at a meeting to be held in about three weeks’ time,
Watt, finding that he could do no more, took his leave; but, before he
left Bristol, he inserted in the local papers an advertisement, prepared
by Boulton, cautioning the public against using the Hornblowers’ engine,
as being a direct infringement of their patent. For the present, indeed,
there seemed but little reason to apprehend danger from the Hornblowers,
whose engine was still undergoing alterations in detail, if not in
principle; and it appeared doubtful, from the trials which had been made
of it, whether it would ever prove an economical working engine.

Watt then returned to Birmingham, to proceed with the completion of his
rotary motion. Boulton kept urging that the field for pumping-engines
was limited, that their Cornish prospects were still gloomy, and that
they must very soon look out for new fields. One of his schemes was the
applying of the steam-engine to the winding of coals. “A hundred engines
at 100_l._ a year each,” he said, “would be a better thing than all
Cornwall.” But the best field of all, he still held, was mills. “Let us
remember,” said he, “the Birmingham motto, to ‘strike while the iron is

Watt, as usual, was not so sanguine as his partner, and rather doubtful
of the profit to be derived from this source. From a correspondence
between him and Mr. William Wyatt, of London, on the subject, we find him
discouraging the scheme of applying steam-engines to drive corn-mills; on
which Boulton wrote to Wyatt,--

  “You have had a correspondence with my friend Watt, but I know not
  the particulars.... You must make allowance in what Mr. Watt says
  ... he _under_ values the merits of his own works.... _I_ will
  take all risks in erecting an engine for a corn-mill.... I think
  I can safely say our engine will grind _four_ times the quantity
  of corn per bushel of coal compared with any engine hitherto

    [251] Boulton to Wyatt, 16th December, 1782.

About the same time we find Boulton writing to Watt,--

  “You seem to be fearful that mills will not answer, and that
  you cannot make Reynolds’s amount to more than 20_l._ a year.
  For my part, I think that mills, though trifles in comparison
  with Cornish engines, present a field that is boundless, and
  that will be more permanent than these transient mines, and
  more satisfactory than these inveterate, ungenerous, and envious
  miners and mine lords. As to the trouble of small engines, I would
  curtail it by making a pattern card of them (which may be done
  in the course of next year), and confine ourselves to those sorts
  and sizes until our convenience admits of more.”[252]

    [252] Boulton to Watt, 7th December, 1782.

In the mean time Watt, notwithstanding his doubts, had been proceeding
with the completion of his rotative machine, and by the end of the year
applied it with success to a tilt-hammer, as well as to a corn-mill
at Soho. Some difficulties presented themselves at first, but they
were speedily surmounted. The number of strokes made by the hammer was
increased from 18 per minute in the first experiment, to 25 in the second;
and Watt contemplated increasing the speed to even 250 or 300 strokes a
minute, by diminishing the height to which the hammer rose before making
its descending blow. “There is now no doubt,” said he, “that fire-engines
will drive mills; but I entertain some doubts whether anything is to
be got by them, as by any computation I have yet made of the mill for
Reynolds [recently ordered] I cannot make it come to more than 20_l._ per
annum, which will do little more than pay trouble. Perhaps some others
may do better.”[253]

    [253] Watt to Boulton, 28th November, 1782.

[Illustration: “OLD BESS.”[254]]

    [254] The above illustration represents the first engine employed
      at Soho, with the alterations subsequently introduced, for the
      purpose of producing rotary motion. The old Kinneil engine,
      “Beelzebub,” as Watt called her, was entirely removed, and
      replaced by this engine, as explained by Watt in his MS. Memoir
      of Boulton now before us, wherein he states,--“The first engine
      of 18 inches cylinder, which was employed in returning the
      water to Soho mill, was replaced about 1778 or 1779 by a larger
      engine, the first on the expansive principle, which still
      remains there.” The engine became known at Soho as “Old Bess,”
      and she continued in regular work until within the last eight
      years. The illustration shows the state in which the engine now
      stands in South Kensington Museum.

      A. steam cylinder; B. steam pipe; C. throttle valve; D. steam
      valve; E. eduction valve; F. eduction pipe; G. valve gearing;
      H. condenser; I. air pump; K. air pump rod; L. foot valve; M.
      hand gear tappet rod; N. parallel motion; O. balance weight;
      P. rocking beam; Q. connecting rod; R. feed pump rod; S. sun
      wheel; T. planet wheel; U. fly wheel; W. governor; X. feedwater

The problem of producing rotary motion by steam-power was thus solved to
the satisfaction even of Watt himself. But though a boundless field for
the employment of the engine now presented itself, Watt was anything but
elated at the prospect. For some time he doubted whether it would be worth
the while of the Soho firm to accept orders for engines of this sort.
When Boulton went to Dublin to endeavour to secure a patent for Ireland,
Watt wrote to him thus:--“Some people at Burton are making application
to us for an engine to work a cotton-mill; but from their letter and the
man they have sent here, I have no great opinion of their abilities....
If you come home by way of Manchester, please not to seek for orders for
cotton-mill engines, because I hear that there are so many mills erecting
on powerful streams in the north of England, that the trade must soon
be overdone, and consequently our labour may be lost.” Boulton, however,
had no such misgivings. He foresaw that before long the superior power,
regularity, speed, and economy, of the steam-engine, must recommend it
for adoption in all branches of manufacture in which rotative motion was
employed; and he had no hesitation in applying for orders notwithstanding
the opposition of his partner. The first rotary engine was made for Mr.
Reynolds, of Ketley, towards the end of 1782, and was used to drive a
corn-mill. It was some time before another order was received, though
various inquiries were made about engines for the purpose of polishing
glass, grinding malt, rolling iron, and such like.[255] The first engine
of the kind erected in London was at Goodwyn and Co.’s brewery; and
the second, still working, though in an altered form, at the Messrs.
Whitbread’s. These were shortly followed by other engines of the same
description, until there was scarcely a brewery in London that was not
supplied with one.

    [255] “We have had a visit to-day from a Mr. Cort of Gosport, who
      says he has a forge there, and has found out some grand secret
      in the making of iron, by which he can make double the quantity
      at the same expense and in the same time as usual. He says he
      wants some kind of engine, but could not tell what; wants some
      of us to call on him, and says he had some correspondence with
      you on the subject. He seems a simple goodnatured man, but not
      very knowing. He says he has most of the smith-work for the
      king’s yard, and has a forge, a rolling and slitting mill. I
      think him a brother projector.”--Watt to Boulton, 14th December,

In the mean time, the works at Soho continued to be fully employed in
the manufacture of pumping-engines. But as the county of Cornwall was
becoming well supplied,--no fewer than twenty-one having now been erected
there, only one of the old Newcomen construction continuing in work,--it
was probable that before long the demand from that quarter must slacken,
if not come to an end. There were, however, other uses to which the
pumping-engine might be applied; and one of the most promising was the
drainage of the Fen lands. Some adventurers at Soham, near Cambridge,
having made inquiries on the subject, Watt wrote to his partner, “I look
upon these Fens as the only trump card we have left in our hand.”[256]
The adventurers proposed that Boulton and Watt should take an interest
in their scheme by subscribing part of the necessary capital. But Watt
decidedly objected to this, as he did not wish to repeat his Cornish
difficulties in the Fens. He was willing to supply engines on reasonable
terms, but as for shares he would have none of them. The conclusion
he eventually arrived at with respect to his proposed customers was
this,--“Consider Fen men as Cornish men, only more cunning.”

In the midst of his great labours, Boulton was reminded that he was human.
He had for years been working at too high pressure, and the tear and wear
began to tell upon his health. Watt expostulated with him, telling him
that he was trying to do half-a-dozen men’s work; but in vain. He was
committed to so many important enterprises--he had so much at stake--the
liabilities he had to meet from day to day were so heavy--that he was in
a measure forced to be active. To his friend Matthews he lamented that
he was under the necessity of “slaving from morning till night, working
fourteen hours a day, in the drudgery of a Birmingham manufacturer and
hardware merchant.” But this could not last, and before long he was
threatened with a break-down. His friends Drs. Withering and Darwin urged
him at once to “knock off” and take a long holiday--to leave Soho and its
business, its correspondence, and its visitors, and get as far away from
it as possible.

    [256] 4th December, 1782.

Acting on their advice, he resolved on making a long-promised visit to
Scotland, and he set out on his tour in the autumn of 1783. He went by
Newcastle, where he visited the principal coal mines, and from thence
to Edinburgh, where he had some pleasant intercourse with Dr. Black
and Professor Robison. It is evident from his letters that he did not
take much ease during his journey, for he carried about with him his
steam-engine--at least in his head. “I talked with Dr. Black and another
chemical friend,” he wrote, “respecting my plan for saving alkali at such
bleach-grounds as our fire-engines are used at instead of water-wheels:
the Doctor did not start any objections, but, on the contrary, much
approved it.” From Edinburgh he proceeded to the celebrated ironworks
at Carron, a place in which he naturally felt a peculiar interest. There
his friend Roebuck had started his great enterprise, and there Watt had
erected his first engine. His visit there, however, was not so much
for curiosity or pleasure, but for business and experiment. “During
my residence in Scotland,” said he, “one month of my time was closely
employed at Carron Ironworks in settling accounts, but principally in
making a great number of experiments on all their iron ores, and in
putting them into the train of making good bar-iron, in which I succeeded
to my wishes, although they had never made a single bar of tough iron
at Carron before.”[257] In the course of his journey he made a large
collection of fossils for his museum, and the weight of his bags sensibly
increased almost daily. On his way through Ayrshire he called on Lord
Dundonald, a kindred spirit in chemical and mechanical scheming, and
examined his mineral tar works. He wrote to Mr. Gilbert, the Duke of
Bridgewater’s manager at Worsley, that “the tar is better for the bottoms
of vessels than the vegetable tar; and the coal-oil hath many uses.
Query--if such a work might not be a useful appendage to your colliery
and canal.”

    [257] Letter to Thomas Knox, M.P.

Boulton returned to Soho greatly improved in health, and was shortly
immersed as before in the business of the factory. He found considerable
arrears of correspondence requiring to be brought up. Several of the
letters waiting for him were from schemers of new inventions connected
with the steam-engine. Whenever an inventor thought he had discovered
anything new, he at once rushed to Boulton with it. He was looked upon
as the lord and leader of steam power. His reputation for enterprise
and business aptitude, and the energetic manner in which he had pushed
Watt’s invention, were now so widely known, that every new schemer saw a
fortune within his reach could he but enlist Boulton on his side. Hence
much of his time was occupied in replying to letters from schemers,--from
inventors of perpetual motion, of flying-machines, of locomotion by
steam, and of various kinds of rotary motion. In one of his letters we
find him complaining of so much of his time being “taken up in answering
great numbers of letters he had lately been plagued with from eccentric
persons of no business;” for it was his practice never to leave a letter
unanswered, no matter how insignificant or unreasonable his correspondent
might be.[258]

    [258] With an almost excess of politeness, Boulton wrote long
      letters to unknown correspondents to set them right about
      mechanical errors into which they seemed to him to have fallen.
      Thus a Mr. Knipe of Chelsea, supposing he had discovered a
      perpetual motion machine, wrote inviting Boulton to join him
      as a partner. Though the man was without means and evidently
      foolish, Boulton wrote him several long letters in the kindest
      spirit, pointing out that his scheme was contrary to reason and
      science. “It is impossible,” said he, “for inanimate mechanism
      to _produce_ the least degree of power or to augment the sum
      total of the _primum mobile_. Mechanism may communicate or
      concentrate or economise power, but cannot create or augment
      it.” Knipe replied at great length, vindicating his invention.
      His enthusiasm pleased Boulton, who, in the generosity of his
      nature, sent him a draft for ten guineas on his London bankers
      to enable the poor inventor to secure his invention if there
      was really anything in it. But nothing more was heard of Knipe’s
      Perpetual Motion Machine.

After a short visit to London, Boulton proceeded into Cornwall to look
after the engines there, and watch the progress of the mining operations
in which by this time he had become so largely interested. He found the
adventurers in a state of general grumble at the badness of the times,
the lowness of prices, the losses incurred in sinking for ore that could
not be found, and the heaviness of the dues for engine-power payable to
Boulton and Watt. At such times, the partners were usually beset with
applications for abatement, to which they were under the necessity of
submitting to prevent the mines being altogether closed. Thus the dues
at Chacewater were reduced from 2500_l._ to 1000_l._ a year, and the
adventurers were still pressing for further reductions.[259] What provoked
Boulton most, however, was, not the loss of dues so much as the threats
which were constantly held out to him that unless the demands of the
adventurers were complied with, they would employ the Hornblowers.

    [259] No wonder the miners were so urgent for reductions in
      working expenses, as we find from a communication from Watt
      to Boulton, of facts to be laid before Parliament against the
      proposed tax on coal, that Chacewater had sunk 50,000_l._ in
      setting the mine to work; Wheal Virgin 28,000_l._ in ten months,
      and still unprosperous; Poldice a very large sum, and merely
      paying expenses; Wheal Chance 35,000_l._, and only moderately
      prosperous; Pool 14,000_l._, without much prospect of recovery;
      Roskere languishing, and not paying expenses; United Mines,
      which had been at death’s door, still in a tottering state;
      Wheal Union stopped, after losing about 8000_l._; Dalcoath
      500_l._ spent on timber per month, and a new kibble-rope, of
      above a ton weight, worn out in a fortnight. [To draw a kibble
      of ore then, weighing about 3 cwt., took fully fifteen minutes,
      owing to the great depth of that mine, and two-thirds of the
      stuff drawn was stones.] To which Watt added, “if we had not
      furnished the miners with more effectual means of draining
      the water, almost all the deep mines would have been abandoned
      before now.”

  “It is a disagreeable thing,” he wrote, “to live amongst one’s
  enemies, and all the adventurers are so, except Phillips and the
  Foxes, who are fair men although they would rather have engines
  free. I have had many hints given me that the Trumpeters were
  reviving their mischief, and many causes for uneasiness, but I did
  not wish you to partake of them, and therefore have been silent;
  but they are now striking at the root of us, and therefore we
  must defend ourselves or fall.... I think if we could but keep
  up our spirits and be active we might vanquish all the host. But
  I must own that I have been low-spirited ever since I have been
  here--have been indolent, and feel as if the springs of life were
  let down.”

It does not, however, appear from the letter to Watt in which this
complaint occurs, that Boulton had been at all indolent, as he speaks
of being in almost daily attendance at the miners’ meetings; one day at
Poldice, the next at Consolidated Mines, and so on. Of the latter meeting
he says,--

  “There was a full attendance; Jethro looked impudent, but
  mortified to see the new little engine drawing kibbles from
  two pits exceedingly well and very manageable, and afterwards
  it worked six stamps each 2½ = 14 cwt., lifted twice at each
  revolution, or four times for every stroke of the engine. I
  suppose there were a thousand people present to see the engine

Watt was, on his part, rather opposed to making further concessions, which
only seemed to have the effect of inviting demands for more.

  “People,” said he, “do not employ us out of personal regard, but
  to serve themselves; and why should not we look after ourselves in
  like manner.... John Taylor died the other day worth 200,000_l._,
  without ever doing one generous action. I do not mean that we
  should follow _his_ example. I should not consent to oppression
  or to take any unfair advantage of my neighbour’s necessity, but I
  think it blameable to exercise generosity towards men who display
  none towards us. It is playing an unfair game when the advantage
  is wholly on their side. If Wheal Virgin threatened to stop unless
  we abated one-half, they should stop for me; but if it appeared
  that, according to the mode settled in making the agreement, we
  had too high a premium, I should voluntarily reduce it to whatever
  was just.”

While Boulton was fighting for dues in Cornwall, and labouring as
before to improve the business management of the mines in which he was
interested as a shareholder, Watt was busily occupied at Soho in turning
out new engines for various purposes, as well as in perfecting several
long-contemplated inventions. The manufactory, which had for a time been
unusually slack, was again in full work. Several engines were in hand for
the London brewers. Wedgwood had ordered an engine to grind flints;[260]
and orders were coming in for rotative engines for various purposes, such
as driving saw-mills in America and sugar-mills in the West Indies. Work
was, indeed, so plentiful that Watt was opposed to further orders for
rotatives being taken, as the drawings for them occupied so much time, and
they brought in but small profit. “I see plainly,” said he, “that every
rotation engine will cost twice the trouble of one for raising water, and
will in general pay only half the money. Therefore I beg you will not
undertake any more rotatives until our hands are clear, which will not
be before 1785. We have already more work in hand than we have people to
execute it in the interval.”[261]

    [260] The engine was of 40-horse power. It was erected at the
      “Black Works,” Etruria, where it continues working with the
      sun and planet motion,--one of the very few engines of the old
      construction still remaining in existence.

    [261] Watt to Boulton, 22nd June, 1784.

One reason why Watt was more than usually economical of his time was,
that he was then in the throes of the inventions patented by him in the
course of this year. Though racked by headaches which, he complained,
completely “dumfounded” him and perplexed his mind, he could not restrain
his irrepressible instinct to invent; and the result was the series of
inventions embodied in his patent of 1784, including, among other things,
the application of the steam-engine to the working of a tilt-hammer for
forging iron and steel, to driving wheel-carriages for carrying persons
and goods, and for other purposes. The specification also included the
beautiful invention of the parallel motion, of which Watt himself said,
“Though I am not over anxious after fame, yet I am more proud of the
parallel motion than of any other mechanical invention I have ever made.”
Watt was led to meditate this contrivance by the practical inconvenience
which he experienced in communicating the direct vertical motion of the
piston-rod by means of racks and sectors, to the angular motion of the
working beam. He was gradually led to entertain the opinion that some
means might be contrived for accomplishing this object by motions turning
upon centres; and, working upon this idea, he gradually elaborated his
invention. So soon as he caught sight of the possible means of overcoming
the difficulty, he wrote to Boulton in Cornwall,--

  “I have started a new hare. I have got a glimpse of a method
  of causing a piston-rod to move up and down perpendicularly by
  only fixing it to a piece of iron upon the beam, without chains
  or perpendicular guides or untowardly friction, arch heads, or
  other pieces of clumsiness; by which contrivance it answers fully
  to expectation. About 5 feet in the height of her house may be
  saved in 8-feet strokes, which I look upon as a capital saving,
  and it will answer for double engines as well as for single ones.
  I have only tried it in a slight model yet, so cannot build
  upon it, though I think it a very probable thing to succeed.
  It is one of the most ingenious, simple pieces of mechanism I
  have ever contrived, but I beg nothing may be said on it till I

    [262] Watt to Boulton, 30th June, 1784. Boulton MSS.

[Illustration: THE PARALLEL MOTION.]

He immediately set to work to put his idea to the practical proof, and
only eleven days later he wrote,--

  “I have made a very large model of the new substitute for racks
  and sectors, which seems to bid fair to answer. The rod goes up
  and down quite in a perpendicular line without racks, chains, or
  guides. It is a perpendicular motion derived from a combination of
  motions about centres--very simple, has very little friction, has
  nothing standing higher than the back of the beam, and requires
  the centre of the beam to be only half the stroke of the engine
  higher than the top of the piston-rod when at lowest, and has no
  inclination to pull the piston-rod either one way or another, only
  straight up and down.... However, don’t pride yourself on it--it
  is not fairly tried yet, and may have unknown faults.”[263]

    [263] The parallel motion was first put in practice in the
      engine erected for Mr. Whitbread; Watt informing Boulton (27th
      October, 1785) that “the parallel motion of Whitbread’s answers

[Illustration: THE GOVERNOR.]

Another of Watt’s beautiful inventions of the same period, was the
Governor, contrived for the purpose of regulating the speed of the engine.
This was a point of great importance in all cases where steam-power
was employed in processes of manufacture. To modify the speed of the
piston in the single-acting pumping-engine, Watt had been accustomed
to use what is called a throttle valve, which was regulated by hand
as occasion required. But he saw that to ensure perfect uniformity of
speed, the action of the engine must be made automatic if possible,
and with this object he contrived the Governor, which has received no
improvement since it left his hand. Two balls are fixed to the ends of
arms connected with the engine by a moveable socket, which plays up and
down a vertical rod revolving by a band placed upon the axis or spindle
of the fly-wheel. According to the centrifugal force with which the
balls revolve, they diverge more or less from the central fixed point,
and push up or draw down the moveable collar; which, being connected by
a crank with the throttle-valve, thereby regulates with the most perfect
precision the passage of the steam between the boiler and the cylinder.
When the pressure of steam is great, and the tendency of the engine is
to go faster, the governor shuts off the steam; and when it is less, the
governor opens the throttle-valve and increases the supply. By this simple
and elegant contrivance the engine is made to regulate its own speed with
the most beautiful precision.

Among the numerous proposed applications of the steam-engine about this
time, was its employment as a locomotive in driving wheel-carriages. It
will be remembered that Watt’s friend Robison had, at a very early period,
directed his attention to the subject; and the idea had since been revived
by Mr. Edgeworth, who laboured with great zeal to indoctrinate Watt with
his views. The latter, though he had but little faith in the project,
nevertheless included a plan of a locomotive engine in his patent of 1784;
but he took no steps to put it in execution, being too much engrossed with
other business at the time. His plan contemplated the employment of steam
either in the form of high-pressure or low-pressure, working the pistons
by the force of steam only, and discharging it into the atmosphere after
it had performed its office, or discharging it into an air-tight condenser
made of thin plates or pipes, with their outsides exposed to the wind or
to an artificial current of air, thereby economising the water which would
otherwise be lost.

Watt did not carry his design into effect; and, so far as he was
concerned, the question of steam locomotion would have gone no further.
But the subject had already attracted the attention of William Murdock,
who had for some time been occupied during his leisure hours in
constructing an actual working model of a locomotive. When his model
was finished, he proceeded to try it in the long avenue leading to the
parsonage at Redruth, in the summer of 1784; and in so doing nearly
frightened out of his wits the village pastor, who encountered the
hissing, fiery little machine, while enjoying his evening walk.[264]

    [264] ‘Lives of Engineers,’ iii. 77.

When Watt heard of this experiment, he wrote to Boulton, advising that
Murdock should be gently counselled to give up his scheme, which might
have the effect of withdrawing him from the work of the firm, in which he
had become increasingly useful.

  “As to my own part,” wrote Watt, “I shall form no obstacle to
  the scheme. My only reasons against it were that I feared it
  would deprive us of a valuable man; that it would, if we were to
  be concerned in it, divert us from more valuable business, and
  perhaps prove a sinking fund; and lastly, that I did not like that
  a scheme which I had revolved in my mind for years and hoped to be
  able at some favourable time to bring to perfection, if capable of
  it, should be wrested from me, or that I should be compelled to
  go into it as a secondary person. But I have now made the latter
  objection give way. And as to the first, I think it will take
  place at any rate, so we must make the best of it.”[265]

    [265] In a letter dated 28th August, 1784, Watt communicated his
      views to his partner on the subject of locomotive engines at
      great length. In the course of the letter he says,--

        “My original ideas on this subject were prior to my
        invention of the improved engines, or before the crank or
        any other rotative motions were thought of. My plan then
        was to have two inverted cylinders with toothed racks
        instead of piston rods, which were to be applied to the
        ratchet wheels on the axletree, and to act alternately;
        and I am partly of opinion that this method might be
        applied with advantage yet, because it needs no fly, and
        has other conveniences.

        “From what I have said, and from much more which a
        little reflection will suggest to you, you will see that
        without several circumstances turn out more favourable
        than has been stated, the machine will be clumsy and
        defective, and that it will cost much time to bring it
        to any tolerable degree of perfection; and that for me to
        attempt to interrupt the career of my business to bestow
        any attention to it, would be imprudent. I even grudge
        the time I have taken to write these comments on it.”

Boulton was accordingly recommended in the first place to endeavour to
dissuade Murdock from pursuing the subject further, but if he could not
succeed in that, rather than lose him, he was to let him have an advance
to the extent of 100_l._, to enable him to prosecute his experiments; and
if within a year he succeeded in making an engine capable of drawing a
postchaise carrying two ordinary persons and the driver, with 200 lbs. of
luggage, fuel for four hours, and water for two hours, going at the rate
of four miles an hour, then a partnership was to be entered into, in which
Boulton and Watt were to find the capital, and Murdock was to conduct the
business and take his share of the profits.

Murdock, however, had so many urgent matters to attend to, that, sanguine
though he continued to be as to the success of his scheme, he could not
find time to pursue it. He was a man after Boulton’s own heart, unsparing
of himself and indefatigable in whatsoever he undertook; nor was Boulton
sparing of praises of him in his confidential letters to Watt.

  “We want more Murdocks,” he wrote on one occasion, “for, of all
  our men he is the most active. He is the best engine erector I
  ever saw, and of his energy I had one of the best proofs this day.
  They stopped Poldice lower engine last Monday and took her all
  to pieces; took out the condenser, took up out of the shaft the
  greatest part of the pumps, took the nozzles to pieces, cut out
  the iron seatings and put in brass ones with new valves, mended
  the eduction-pipe, and did a great number of repairs about the
  beam and engine; put the pumps down into the new engine shaft,
  did much work at the new engine; and this done, about noon both
  the engines, new and old, were set to work again complete. When I
  look at the work done it astonishes me, and is entirely owing to
  the spirit and activity of Murdock, who hath not gone to bed for
  three nights, and I expect the mine will be in full fork again by
  Wednesday night. I have got him into good humour again without any
  coaxing, have prevailed on him not to give up Wheal Virgin engine,
  which he had been resolved to do from the ungenerous treatment he
  received from the captains. I have also prevailed on him to put
  off his determined journey to Scotland until North Downs engines
  are got to work, and have quieted his mind about wheel carriages
  till then.”[266]

    [266] Boulton to Watt, 8th November, 1784. Though Murdock was
      thus occupied, he did not abandon his idea of making a working
      locomotive. Two years later we find Watt thus writing Boulton:--

        “I am extremely sorry that W. Murdock still busies himself
        with the steam carriages. In one of my specifications I
        have secured it, as well as words could do, according
        to my idea of it, and if to that you add Symington’s
        and Sadler’s patents, it can scarcely be patentable,
        even if free of the general specification in the Act of
        Parliament; for even granting that what I have done cannot
        secure it, yet it can act as a prior invention against
        anybody else; and if it cannot be secured by patent, to
        what purpose should anybody labour at it? I have still the
        same opinions concerning it that I had, but to prevent
        as much as possible more fruitless argument about it, I
        have one of some size under hand, and am resolved to try
        if God will work a miracle in favour of these carriages.
        I shall in some future letter send you the words of my
        specification on that subject. In the mean time I wish
        William could be brought to do as we do, to mind the
        business in hand, and let such as Symington and Sadler
        throw away their time and money in hunting shadows.”--Watt
        to Boulton, 12th Sept., 1786. In a subsequent letter, Watt
        expresses himself as much gratified to learn “that William
        applies to his business.”

Notwithstanding Watt’s fears of a falling off, the engine business still
continued to prosper in Cornwall. Although the mining interests were
suffering from continued depression, new mines were being opened out,
for which pumping-engines were wanted; and Boulton and Watt’s continued
to maintain their superiority over all others. None of their threatened
rivals had yet been able to exhibit an engine in successful work; and
those of the old construction had been almost completely superseded. In
1784, new engines were in course of erection at Poldice, New Poldory,
Wheal Maid, Polgooth, and other mines. Almost the last of the Newcomen
engines in Cornwall had been discarded at Polgooth in favour of one of
Boulton and Watt’s 58-inch cylinder engines.

[Illustration: POLGOOTH.

[By R. P. Leitch.]]

The dues paid yearly in respect of these and other engines previously
erected were very considerable; Boulton estimating that, if duly paid,
they would amount to about 12,000_l._ a year. There seemed, therefore,
every reasonable prospect of the financial difficulties of the firm at
last coming to an end.

Boulton’s visit to Cornwall on this occasion was enlivened by the
companionship of his wife, and her friend Miss Mynd. Towards midsummer
he looked forward with anticipations of increased pleasure to the visit
of his two children--his son Matt and his daughter Nancy--during their
school holidays. It was a source of much regret to him, affectionate as
his nature was, that the engrossing character of his business prevented
him enjoying the society of his family so much as he desired. But he
endeavoured to make up for it by maintaining a regular correspondence with
them when absent. His letters to his children were full of playfulness,
affection, and good advice. To his son at school he wrote telling him
of his life in Cornwall, describing to him the house at Cosgarne, the
garden and the trees he had planted in it, the pleasant rides in the
neighbourhood, and the visit he had just been paying to the top of
Pendennis Castle, from which he had seen about a hundred sail of ships
at sea, and a boundless prospect of land and water. He proceeded to tell
him of the quantity of work he did connected with the engine business,
how he had no clerk to assist him, but did all the writing and drawing
of plans himself: “When I have time,” said he, “I pick up curiosities
in ores for the purpose of assays, for I have a laboratory here. There
is nothing would so much add to my pleasure as having your assistance
in making solutions, precipitates, evaporations, and crystallisations.”
After giving his son some good advice as to the cultivation of his mind,
as calculated to render him an intelligent and useful member of society,
he proceeded to urge upon him the duty of cultivating polite manners, as
a means of making himself agreeable to others, and at the same time of
promoting his own comfort. “But remember,” he added, “I do not wish you
to be polite at the expense of honour, truth, sincerity, and honesty;
for these are the props of a manly character, and without them politeness
is mean and deceitful. Therefore, be always tenacious of your honour. Be
honest, just, and benevolent, even when it appears difficult to be so. I
say, cherish those principles, and guard them as sacred treasures.”

At length his son and daughter joined him and took part in his domestic
and out-door enjoyments. They accompanied him in his drives and rides,
and Matt took part in his chemical experiments. One of their great
delights was the fabrication of an immense paper balloon, and the making
of the hydrogen gas to fill it with. After great preparations the balloon
was made and filled, and sent up in the field behind the house, to the
delight of all concerned. To Mrs. Watt he wrote expressing to her how
much pleasanter his residence in Cornwall had become since his son and
daughter’s visit. “I shall be happier,” he said, “during the remainder of
my residence here than in the former part of it; for I am ill calculated
to live alone in an enemy’s country, and to contest lawsuits. Besides,
the only source of happiness I look for in my future life is in my
children. Matt behaves extremely well, is active and good-humoured; and
my daughter, too, has, I think, good dispositions and sentiments, which
I shall cherish, and prevent as much as possible from being sullied by
narrow and illiberal-minded companions.” After a few months’ pleasant
social intercourse with his family at Cosgarne, varied by occasional
bickerings with the adventurers out of doors about dues, Boulton returned
to Birmingham, to enter upon new duties and undertake new enterprises.



When Boulton returned to Birmingham, he was urgently called upon to take
part in a movement altogether foreign to his habits. He had heretofore
been too much engrossed by business to admit of his taking any active
part in political affairs. Being, however, of an active temperament,
and mixing with men of all classes, he could not but feel an interest in
the public movements of his time. Early in 1784, we find him taking the
lead in getting up a loyal address to the King on the resignation of the
Portland Administration and the appointment of Mr. Pitt as Prime Minister.
It appears, however, that Pitt disappointed his expectations. One of his
first projects was a scheme of taxation, which he introduced for the
purpose of remedying the disordered state of the finances, but which,
in Boulton’s opinion, would, if carried, have the effect of seriously
damaging the national industry. The Minister proposed to tax coal, iron,
copper, and other raw materials of manufacture, to the amount of about
a million a year. Boulton immediately bestirred himself to oppose the
adoption of the scheme. He held that for a manufacturing nation to tax the
raw materials of wealth was a suicidal measure, calculated, if persevered
in, to involve the producers of wealth in ruin. “Let taxes,” he said, “be
laid upon luxuries, upon vices, and if you like upon property; tax riches
when got, and the expenditure of them, but not the means of getting them;
of all things, don’t cut open the hen that lays the golden eggs.”[267]

    [267] Boulton to Wilson, 16th December, 1784. Boulton MSS.

Petitions and memorials were forthwith got up in the midland counties,
and presented against the measure; and Boulton being recognised as the
leader of the movement in his district, was summoned by Mr. Pitt to London
to an interview with him on the subject. He then took the opportunity
of pressing upon the Minister the necessity of taking measures to secure
reciprocity of trade with foreign nations, as being of vital importance
to the trade of England. Writing to his partner Scale, he said, “Surely
our Ministers must be bad politicians, to suffer the gates of nearly
every commercial city in the world to be shut against us.” “There is no
doubt,” he wrote to his friend Garbett, “but the edicts, prohibitions,
and high duties laid upon our manufacturers by foreign powers will be
severely felt, unless some new commercial treaties are entered into with
such powers. I fear our young Minister is not sufficiently aware of the
importance of the subject, and I likewise fear he will pledge himself
before Parliament meets to carry other measures in the next session that
will be as odious to the country as his late attempts.”

As Boulton had anticipated, the Ministry introduced several important
measures, calculated to have a highly injurious effect upon English
industry, and he immediately bestirred himself, in conjunction with Josiah
Wedgwood, of Etruria, to organise a movement in opposition to them.
Wedgwood and Boulton met at Birmingham in February, 1785, and arranged
to assemble a meeting of delegates from the manufacturing districts,
who were to meet and sit in London “all the time the Irish commercial
affairs were pending.” A printed statement of the objects of the movement
was circulated, and Boulton and Wedgwood wrote to their friends in
all quarters to meet and appoint delegates to the central committee in
London. Boulton was unanimously appointed the delegate for Birmingham,
and he proceeded to London furnished with a bundle of petitions from his
neighbourhood. The delegates proceeded to form themselves into a Chamber
of Manufacturers, over the deliberations of which Wedgwood, Boulton, or
John Wilkinson usually presided.

The principal object of these meetings and petitionings was to prevent,
if possible, the imposition of the proposed taxes on coal, iron, and raw
materials generally, as well as the proposed export duties on manufactured
articles. At a time when foreign governments were seeking to exclude
English manufactures from their dominions by heavy import duties, it was
felt that this double burden was more than English industry could bear.
The Irish Parliament were at the same time legislating in a hostile spirit
towards English commerce; imposing taxes upon all manufactures imported
into Ireland from England, while Irish manufactures were not only sent
into England duty free, but their own parliament encouraged them by a
bounty on exportation. The committee strongly expostulated against the
partial and unjust spirit of this legislation, and petitioned for free
interchange on equal terms. So long as such a state of things continued,
the petitioners urged that “every idea of reciprocity in the interchange
of manufactures between Britain and Ireland was a mere mockery of words.”

Although Watt was naturally averse to taking any public part in politics,
his services were enlisted in the cause, and he drew up for circulation
“An answer to the Treasury Paper on the Iron Trade of England and
Ireland.” The object of his statement was to show that the true way
of encouraging manufactures in Ireland was, not by bounties, not by
prohibitions, but by entire freedom of industry. It was asserted by the
supporters of the propositions, that the natives of Ireland were ignorant,
indolent, and poor. “If they be so,” said Watt, “the best method of giving
them vigour is to have recourse to British manufacturers, possessed of
capital, industry, and knowledge of trade.” The old covenanting spirit of
his race fairly breaks out in the following passage:--

  “It is contemptible nonsense to argue that because Ireland has
  never had iron manufactories she cannot soon have them.... One
  hundred years ago the Irish had no linen manufacture; they
  imported linen; and now they sell to us to the amount of a
  million annually. How came this about? The civil wars under
  Charles I., and the tyranny of the Scotch Privy Council under
  Charles II., chased the people out of Scotland, because they
  were Presbyterians. Ireland received and protected them; they
  peopled the northern provinces; many of them were weavers; they
  followed their business in Ireland, and taught others. Philip II.
  chased the inhabitants out of Flanders, on account of religion;
  Queen Elizabeth received and protected them; and England learnt
  to manufacture woollen cloth. The persecutions of Lewis XIV.
  occasioned the establishment of a colony in Spitalfields. And the
  Parliament of Britain, under the auspices of ---- and ----, and
  others, imposed oppressive duties on glass; and ----’s Act gave
  the Irish liberty to export it to our Colonies; the glass-makers
  fled from the tyranny of the Excise; Ireland has now nine
  glass-houses. Britain has lost the export trade of that article!
  More examples of the migrations of manufactures could be adduced,
  but it seems unnecessary; for it cannot be denied that men will
  fly from tyranny to liberty, whether Philip’s Priests, Charles’s
  Dragoons, or our Excisemen be the instruments of the tyranny.
  And it must also be allowed that even the Inquisition itself is
  not more formidable than our Excise Laws (as far as property is
  concerned) to those who unhappily are subjected to them.”

Towards the end of the statement he asks, “Would it not be more manly
and proper at once to invite the Irish to come into a perfect union with
Britain, and to pay the same duties and excises that we do? Then every
distinction of country might with justice be done away with, and they
would have a fair claim to all the advantages which we enjoy.”

The result of the agitation was that most of the proposals to impose new
taxes on the raw materials of manufacture were withdrawn by the Ministry,
and the Irish resolutions were considerably modified. But the relations
of British and Irish industry were by no means settled. The Irish
Parliament might refuse to affirm the resolutions adopted by the British
Parliament, in which case it might be necessary again to oppose the
Ministerial measures; and to provide for this contingency, the delegates
separated, with the resolution to maintain and extend their organisation
in the manufacturing districts. Watt did not, however, like the idea of
his partner becoming engrossed in political agitation, even in matters
relating to commerce. He accordingly wrote to Boulton in London, “I find
myself quite unequal to the various business now lying behind, and wish
much you were at home, and that you would direct your attention solely to
your own and to Boulton and Watt’s business until affairs can be brought
into reasonable compass.”[268] Later he wrote,--“At Manchester they are
busy making a collection for the Chamber of Manufacturers, which I fancy
will be in vogue again next winter. But I hope that neither you nor I will
be mad enough to be demagogues then. Let us leave that to those who can
defy Ministers, and get our property secured, which may be done in the

    [268] Watt to Boulton, 31st March, 1785.

Watt was at this time distressed by an adverse decision against the firm
in one of the Scotch courts. “I have generally observed,” he wrote, “that
there is a tide in our affairs. We have had peace for some time, but now
cross accidents have begun, and more are to be feared.” His anxieties were
increased by the rumour which reached his ears from several quarters of a
grand combination of opulent manufacturers to make use of every beneficial
patent that had been taken out, and cut them down by _scire facias_, as
they had already cut down Arkwright’s. It was said that subscriptions
had been obtained by the association amounting to 50,000_l._ Watt was
requested to join a counter combination of patentees to resist the
threatened proceedings. To this, however, he objected, on the ground that
the association of men to support one another in lawsuits was illegal, and
would preclude the members from giving evidence in support of each other’s
rights. “Besides,” said he, “the greater number of patentees are such as
we could not associate with, and if we did it would do us more harm than

    [269] Watt to Boulton, 21st July, 1785. Writing to Boulton on a
      later occasion on the subject of these threatened attacks on
      all patents, he said, “A pursuance of such decisions as have
      been given lately in several cases must at length drive men of
      invention to take shelter in countries where their ingenuity
      will be protected; and the other states of Europe know their
      interest too well to neglect any opportunity of curbing the
      insolence and humbling the pride of Britain. If the minister
      should not think it right to amend and confirm the patent laws,
      the next best thing would be to make a law totally taking
      away the king’s power of granting them. I mean, this would
      be the _honest_ part.”--Watt to Boulton, 19th March, 1786.
      Boulton himself had equally strong views on the subject of
      patents, believing that they tended to encourage industrious
      and ingenious men to labour for the common good. Referring to
      the decision against Argand’s lamp patent, he wrote De Luc in
      1787,--“It was hard, unjust, and impolitic, as it hath (to my
      knowledge) discouraged a very ingenious French chemist from
      coming over and establishing in this country an invention of
      the highest importance to one of our greatest manufactures.
      Moreover, it tends to destroy the greatest of all stimulants to
      invention, viz. the idea of enjoying the fruits of one’s own
      labour. Some late decisions against the validity of certain
      patents have raised the spirits of the illiberal, sordid,
      unjust, ungenerous, and inventionless misers, who prey upon
      the vitals of the ingenious, and make haste to seize upon what
      their laborious and often costly application has produced. The
      decisions to which I refer have encouraged a combination in
      Cornwall to erect engines on Boulton and Watt’s principles,
      contrary to the Law of Patents and the express provisions of an
      Act of Parliament; and this they are setting about in order to
      drive us into a court of law, flattering themselves that it is
      the present disposition of the judges to set their faces against
      all patents. Should such a disposition (so contrary to Lord
      Mansfield’s decisions) continue to prevail, it will produce far
      greater evils to the manufacturing industry of the kingdom than
      the gentlemen of the law can have any idea of.”

Towards the end of 1785 the engines which had been in hand were nearly
finished, and work was getting slacker than usual at Soho. Though new
orders gave Watt trouble, and occasioned him anxiety, still he would
rather not be without them. “It will be well,” he wrote to his partner,
“if we can get some orders now for engines worth while. What we have
been doing lately has been very trifling, and if we don’t get orders
soon, our men will be idle. As it happens at present, we have at least
three engineers too few here, there being eight engines to be done in
two or three months, and only three engineers.”[270] It was matter of
gratification to Watt to be able to report that the engines last delivered
had given great satisfaction. The mechanics were improving in skill,
and their workmanship was becoming of a superior character. “Strood and
Curtis’s engine,” said he, “has been at work some time, and does very
well. Whitbread’s has also been tried, and performs exceedingly well.” The
success of Whitbread’s engine was such that it had the honour of a visit
from the King, who was greatly pleased with its performances. Not to be
outdone, “Felix Calvert,” wrote Watt, “has bespoken one, which is to outdo
Whitbread’s in magnificence.”

    [270] Watt to Boulton, 27th August, 1785.

The slackness of work at Soho was not of long continuance. Orders for
rotative engines came in gradually; one from Harris, of Nottingham;
another from Macclesfield, to drive a silk-mill; a third from Edinburgh,
for the purposes of a distillery; and others from different quarters.
The influx of orders had the effect at the same time of filling Soho
with work, and plunging Watt into his usual labyrinth of perplexity and
distress. In September we find him writing to Boulton,--

  “My health, is so bad that I do not think I can hold out much
  longer, at least as a man of business, and I wish to consolidate
  something before I give over.” ... Again, “I cannot help being
  dispirited, because I find my head fail me much, business an
  excessive burden to me, and little prospect of my speedy release
  from it. Were we both young and healthy, I should see no reason
  to despair, but very much the contrary. However, we must do the
  best we can, and hope for quiet in heaven when our weary bones
  are laid to rest.”[271]

    [271] Watt to Boulton, 24th September, 1785.

A few months later, so many more orders had come in, that Watt described
Soho as “fast for the next four months,” but the additional work only had
the effect of increasing his headaches. “In the anguish of my mind,” he
wrote, “amid the vexations occasioned by new and unsuccessful schemes,
like Lovelace I ‘curse my inventions,’ and almost wish, if we could gather
our money together, that somebody else should succeed in getting our trade
from us. However, all may yet be well. Nature can be conquered if we can
but find out her weak side.”

We return to the affairs of the Cornish copper-miners, which were now in a
very disheartening condition. The mines were badly and wastefully worked;
and the competition of many small companies of poor adventurers kept the
copper trade in a state of permanent depression. In this crisis of their
affairs it was determined that a Copper Company should be formed, backed
by ample capital, with the view of regulating this important branch of
industry, and rescuing the mines and miners from ruin. Boulton took an
active part in its formation, and induced many of his intimate friends
in the north to subscribe largely for shares. An arrangement was entered
into by the Company with the adventurers in the principal mines, to buy
of them the whole of the ore raised, at remunerative prices, for a period
of eleven years. At the first meeting, held in September, 1785, for the
election of Governor, Deputy-Governor, and Directors, Boulton held in his
hands the power of determining the appointments, representing, as he did
by proxy, shares held by his northern friends to the amount of 86,000_l._
The meeting took place in the Town-hall at Truro, and the proceedings
passed off satisfactorily; Boulton using his power with due discretion.
“We met again on Friday,” he wrote to Matthews, “and chose the assayers
and other subordinate officers, after which we paid our subscriptions, and
dined together, all in good humour; and thus this important revolution in
the copper trade was finally settled for eleven years.”

Matters were not yet, however, finally settled, as many arrangements
had to be made for setting the Company to work, in which Boulton took
the leading part; the Governor and Directors pressing him not to leave
Cornwall until they were definitely settled. It happened to suit his
convenience to remain until the Wheal Fortune engine was finished--one of
the most formidable engines the firm had yet erected in Cornwall. In the
mean time he entered into correspondence with various consumers of copper
at home and abroad, with the object of finding a vend for the metal. He
succeeded in obtaining a contract through Mr. Hope, of Amsterdam, for
supplying the copper required for the new Dutch coinage; and he opened
out new markets for the produce in other quarters. Being a large holder of
mining shares, Boulton also tried to introduce new and economical methods
of working the mines; but with comparatively little result. To Wilkinson
he wrote,--“Poldice is in a desponding way, and must give up unless better
managed. North Downs is managed as badly by incapable, ignorant, drunken
captains, who hold their posts not by merit, but by their cousinship to
some of the adventurers.... I should spend a great part of next year in
Cornwall, and make myself master of the minutiæ. I think I could then
accomplish many necessary regulations.”[272]

    [272] Boulton to Wilkinson, 21st November, 1785.

Though actively bestirring himself for the good of the mining interest,
Boulton had but small thanks for his pains. The prominence of his position
had this disadvantage, that if the price of the ore went down, or profits
declined, or the yield fell off, or the mines were closed, or anything
went wrong, the miners were but too ready to identify him in some way
with the evil; and the services which he had rendered to the mining
interest[273] were in a moment forgotten. On one occasion the discontent
of the miners broke out into open revolt, and Boulton was even threatened
with personal violence. The United Mines having proved unprofitable in
the working, notice was given by the manager of an intended reduction
of wages, this being the only condition on which the mines could be
carried on. If this could not be arranged, the works must be closed,
as the adventurers declined to go on at a loss. On the announcement of
the intended lowering of wages being made, there was great excitement
and discontent among the workpeople. Several hundreds of them hastily
assembled at Redruth, and took the road for Truro, to pull down the
offices of the Copper Mining Company, and burn the house of the manager.
They were especially furious with Boulton, vowing vengeance on him, and
declaring that they would pull down every pumping-engine he had set up
in Cornwall. When the rioters reached Truro, they found a body of men,
hastily armed with muskets taken from the arsenal, stationed in front of
the Copper Mining Company’s premises, supported by six pieces of cannon.
At sight of this formidable demonstration the miners drew back, and,
muttering threats that they would repeat their visit, returned to Redruth
as they had come. Two companies of soldiers and two of local militia were
brought into the town immediately after; and the intended assault was not
made. When Watt was informed of the violence with which his partner had
been threatened, he wrote,--“In my opinion nothing can be more ungrateful
than the behaviour of those people who endeavour to make you the object of
the resentment of the mob, at a time when (setting aside former services)
you are doing all that lies in your power to serve them.... If you still
find the same spirit continue, for God’s sake leave them immediately. The
law can reach the adventurers, if it cannot the miners.”

    [273] Writing to M. De Luc, the Queen’s Librarian, of what he and
      his partner had done for Cornwall, Boulton said,--“The copper
      and tin mines of Cornwall are now sunk to so great a depth that
      had not Mr. Watt and myself nearly expended our fortunes and
      hazarded our ruin by neglecting our regular business, and by a
      long series of expensive experiments in bringing our engine to
      its present degree of perfection, those mines must inevitably
      have stopped working, and Cornwall at this time would not have
      existed as a mining county. The very article of extra coals
      for common engines would have amounted to more than the entire
      profits of their working.”--Boulton to De Luc, 31st March, 1787.

This was, however, but the wild and unreasoning clamour of misguided and
ignorant men. Boulton was personally much esteemed by all who were able
to appreciate his character, and to understand the position of himself
and his partner with reference to the engine patent. The larger mining
owners invited him to their houses, and regarded him as their friend. The
more intelligent of the managers were his strenuous supporters. First
and foremost among these was Mr. Phillips, manager of the Chacewater
mines, of whom he always spoke with the highest respect, as a man of the
most scrupulous integrity and honour. Mr. Phillips was a member of the
Society of Friends, and his wife Catherine was one of the most celebrated
preachers of the body. Boulton and Watt occasionally resided with them
before the house at Cosgarne was taken, and conceived for both the warmest
friendship. If Watt was attracted by the Cornish Anabaptists, Boulton was
equally so by the Cornish Quakers. We find him, in one of his letters to
Mrs. Boulton, describing to her a great meeting of Friends at Truro which
he had attended, “when,” he said, “I heard our friend Catherine Phillips
preach with great energy and good sense for an hour and a half, although
so weak in body that she was obliged to lie abed for several days before.”
Boulton afterwards dined with the whole body of Friends at the principal
inn, being the only person present who was not of the Society; and he
confessed to have spent in their company a very pleasant evening.[274]

    [274] Two days after this event, when about to set out for
      Polgooth, a messenger arrived at Boulton’s lodgings, bringing
      him the sad news of Mr. Phillips’s sudden death. He describes
      the scene at the funeral, at which Catherine Phillips, though
      strongly urged by him to stay away, insisted on being present.
      “She was attended by a widow lady who had lost a good husband
      last year, and though she had not been accustomed to speak in
      the congregation of the righteous, yet on this occasion she
      stood with her hand upon her husband’s coffin and spoke above
      an hour, delivering one of the most pathetic discourses I ever
      heard.” A large concourse of people attended the interment,
      which took place in a garden near Redruth. Boulton, in writing
      to Mrs. Boulton, said, “I wish I had time to give you the
      history and character of my departed friend, as you know but
      little of his excellences. I cannot say but that I feel a gloomy
      pleasure in dwelling upon the life and death of a good man: it
      incites to piety and elevates the mind above terrestrial things.
      Now, let me ask you to hold a silent meeting in your heart for
      half an hour and then return to your work.”

We return to the progress of the engine business at Soho. The most
important work in hand about this time was the double-acting engine
intended for the Albion Mill, in Southwark.[275] This was the first
rotative with a parallel motion erected in London; and as the more
extended use of the engine would in a great measure depend upon its
success, the firm naturally looked forward with very great interest to
its performances. The Albion Mill scheme was started by Boulton as early
as 1783. Orders for rotatives were then coming in very slowly, and it
occurred to him that if he had but the opportunity of exhibiting the
powers of the new engine in its best form, and in connexion with the
best machinery, the results would be so satisfactory and conclusive as
to induce manufacturers generally to follow the example. On applying to
the London capitalists, Boulton found them averse to the undertaking; and
at length Boulton and Watt became persuaded that if the concern was to
be launched at all, they must themselves find the principal part of the
capital. A sufficient number of shareholders was got together to make a
start, and application was made for a charter of incorporation in 1784;
but it was so strongly opposed by the millers and mealmen, on the ground
that the application of steam-power to flour-grinding would throw wind and
water mills out of work, take away employment from the labouring classes,
and reduce the price of bread,[276] that the charter was refused; and the
Albion Mill Company was accordingly constituted on the ordinary principles
of partnership.

    [275] The Albion Mill engine was set to work in 1786. The first
      rotative with a parallel motion in Scotland, was erected for
      Mr. Stein, of Kennet Pans near Alloa, in the following year.

    [276] In a letter to Mr. Matthews (30th April, 1784) Boulton
      wrote,--“It seems the millers are determined to be masters of
      us and the public. Putting a stop to fire-engine mills because
      they come into competition with water-mills, is as absurd as
      stopping navigable canals would be because they interfere with
      farmers and waggoners. The argument also applies to wind and
      tide mills or any other means whereby corn can be ground. So
      all machines should be stopped whereby men’s labour is saved,
      because it might be argued that men were thereby deprived of
      a livelihood. Carry out the argument, and we must annihilate
      water-mills themselves, and thus go back again to the grinding
      of corn by hand labour!”

By the end of the year the Albion Mill engines, carefully designed by
Watt, were put in hand at Soho; the building was in course of erection,
after the designs of Mr. Wyatt, the architect; while John Rennie, the
young Scotch engineer, was engaged to design and fit up the flour-grinding
and dressing machinery. “I am glad,” wrote Boulton to Watt, “you have
agreed with Rennie. Mills are a great field. Think of the crank--of
Wolf, Trumpeter, Wasp, and all the ghosts we are haunted by.” The whole
of the following year was occupied in the erection of the buildings and
machinery; and it was not until the spring of 1786 that the mill was ready
to start. Being the first enterprise of the kind, on an unprecedented
scale, and comprising many novel combinations of machinery, there were
many “hitches” before it could be got to work satisfactorily. After the
first trial, at which Boulton was present, he wrote his partner expressing
his dissatisfaction with the working of the double-acting engine,
expressing the opinion that it would have been better if they had held
by the single-acting one.[277] Watt was urged to run up to town himself
and set matters to rights; but he was up to the ears in work at Soho, and
could not leave for a day.

    [277] Watt, however, continued to adhere to his own views as to
      the superiority of the plan adopted:--“I am sorry to find,” he
      observed in his reply to Boulton, “so many things are amiss at
      Albion Mill, and that you have lost your good opinion of double
      engines, while my opinion of them is mended. The smoothness
      of their going depends on the steam regulators being opened
      a little before the vacuum regulators, and not opened too
      suddenly, as indeed the others ought not to be. Otherwise the
      shock comes so violently in the opposite direction that no pins
      or brasses will stand it. Malcolm has no notion how to make gear
      work quietly, nor do I think he properly understands it. You
      must therefore attend to it yourself, and not leave it until it
      is more perfect.”--Watt to Boulton, 3rd March, 1786.


  “I can by no means leave home at present,” he wrote, “otherwise we
  shall suffer much greater losses than _can_ come from the Albion
  Mill. The work for Cornwall which must be planned and put in train
  is immense, and there will more come from that quarter. Besides,
  I am pulled to pieces by demands for forwardness from every side.
  I have lost ten days by William Murdock, Wilson, Wilkinson, and
  headaches, and I have neither health nor spirits to make the
  necessary exertions. If I went to London I should be in torment
  all the while with the thoughts of what was lying behind here.”

After pointing out what course should be taken to discover and remedy the
faults of the engine, he proceeded:--

  “Above all, patience must be exercised and things coolly examined
  and put to rights, and care be taken not to blame innocent parts.
  Everything must, as much as possible, be tried separately. Remind
  those who begin to growl, that in new, complicated, and difficult
  things, human foresight falls short--that time and money must be
  given to perfect things and find out their defects, otherwise they
  cannot be remedied.”[278]

    [278] Watt to Boulton, 10th March, 1786.--Boulton MSS.

Not being able to persuade Watt to come to his help, Boulton sent to
Cornwall for Murdock, always ready to lend a hand on an emergency, and in
the course of a few weeks he was in town at work upon the engines. The
result is best told in Wyatt’s letter to Boulton, who had by this time
returned to Birmingham:--

  “Mr. Murdock has just set the engine to work. All the rods are
  altered. I think he has done more good than all the doctors
  we have had before; and his manner of doing it has been very
  satisfactory--so different from what we have been used to. He
  has been through all the flues himself, and really takes uncommon
  pains. Pray write to him; thank him for his attention. He will not
  have left town before he gets your letter, and press him to stay
  as long as he can be essentially serviceable.”

There was, however, so great a demand for Murdock’s presence in Cornwall,
that he could not be spared for another day, and he hurried back again to
his multifarious duties at the mines.

The cost of erecting the mill proved to be considerably in excess of the
original estimate, and Watt early feared that it would turn out a losing
concern. He had no doubt about the engines or the machinery being able to
do all that had been promised; but he feared that the absence of business
capacity on the part of the managers would be fatal to its commercial
success.[279] He was especially annoyed at finding the mill made a public
show of, and that it was constantly crowded with curious and frivolous
people, whose presence seriously interfered with the operations of the
workmen. It reached his ears that the managers of the mill even intended
to hold a masquerade in it, with the professed object of starting the
concern with eclat! Watt denounced this as sheer humbug. “What have Dukes,
Lords, and Ladies,” said he, “to do with masquerading in a flour-mill? You
must take steps to curb the vanity of ----, else it will ruin him. As for
ourselves, considering that we are much envied at any rate, everything
which contributes to render us conspicuous ought to be avoided. Let us
content ourselves with _doing_.”[280] It was also found that the mill
was becoming a nest for schemers and speculators occupied in devising
all manner of new projects. Boulton bestirred himself to put matters in
a more business-like train. Steps were taken to close the mill against
the crowd of idle visitors; and Boulton shortly after reported that “the
manufacturing of Bubbles and new schemes is removed from the Mill to a
private Lodging.”

    [279] “The Albion Mill,” wrote Watt to Boulton, “requires your
      close attention and exertions. I look upon it as a weight about
      our necks that will sink us to the bottom, unless people of
      real activity and knowledge of business are found to manage it.
      I would willingly forfeit a considerable sum to be clear of
      the concern. If anybody will take my share I will cheerfully
      give him 500_l._ and reckon myself well quit. My reasons are
      that none of the parties concerned are men of business, that no
      attention has been hitherto paid to it by anybody except Mr. W.
      and ourselves, and that if we go on as expensively in carrying
      on the business as in the erection, it is impossible but that
      we should be immense losers, and thus probably our least loss
      will be to stop where we are. As to our reputation as engineers,
      I have no doubt but the mill will perform its business, but
      whether with the quantity of coals and labour is what I cannot
      say.”--Watt to Boulton, 19th March, 1786.

    [280] Watt to Boulton, 17th April, 1786.

When the mill was at length set to work, it performed to the entire
satisfaction of its projectors. The engine, on one occasion, ground as
much as 3000 bushels of wheat in twenty-four hours. The usual rate of work
per week of six days was 16,000 bushels of wheat, cleaned, ground, and
dressed into fine flour (some of it being ground two or three times over);
or sufficient, according to Boulton’s estimate, for the weekly consumption
of 150,000 people. The important uses of the double rotative engine were
thus exhibited in the most striking manner; and the fame of the Albion
Mill extended far and wide. It so far answered the main purpose which
Boulton and Watt had in view in originally embarking in the enterprise;
but it must be added that the success was accomplished at a very serious
sacrifice. The mill never succeeded commercially. It was too costly in its
construction and its management, and though it did an immense business it
was at a loss. The concern was, doubtless, capable of great improvement,
and, had time been allowed, it would probably have come round. When its
prospects seemed to be brightening,[281] it was set on fire in several
places by incendiaries on the night of the 3rd of March, 1791. The
villains had made their arrangements with deliberation and skill. They
fastened the main cock of the water-cistern, and chose the hour of low
tide for firing the building, so that water could not be got to play upon
the flames, and the mill was burnt to the ground in a few hours. A reward
was offered for the apprehension of the criminals, but they were never
discovered. The loss sustained by the Company was about 10,000_l._ Boulton
and Watt were the principal sufferers; the former holding 6000_l._, and
the latter 3000_l._ interest in the undertaking.[282]

    [281] Watt wrote Boulton from London, 1st October, 1789,--“I
      called on Wyatt (the architect) last night. He says the mill
      sold above 4000_l._ worth of flour last week and is doing well.”

    [282] For further particulars as to the Albion Mill, see Life of
      Rennie in ‘Lives of the Engineers,’ ii. 137.

Meanwhile orders for rotative engines were coming in apace at
Soho,--engines for paper-mills and cotton-mills, for flour-mills and
iron-mills, and for sugar-mills in America and the West Indies. At the
same time pumping-engines were in hand for France, Spain, and Italy.
The steam-engine was becoming an established power, and its advantages
were every day more clearly recognised. It was alike docile, regular,
economical, and effective, at all times and seasons, by night as by day,
in summer and in winter. While the wind-mills were stopped by calms and
the water-mills by frosts, the steam-mill worked on with untiring power.
“There is not a single water-mill now at work in Staffordshire,” wrote
Boulton to Wyatt in December; “they are all frozen up, and were it not for
Wilkinson’s steam-mill, the poor nailers must have perished; but his mill
goes on rolling and slitting ten tons of iron a day, which is carried away
as fast as it can be bundled up; and thus the employment and subsistence
of these poor people are secured.”

As the demand for rotative engines set in, Watt became more hopeful as
to the prospects of this branch of manufacture. He even began to fear
lest the firm should be unable to execute the orders, so fast did they
follow each other. “I have no doubt,” he wrote to Boulton, “that we
shall soon so methodize the rotative engines as to get on with them at
a great pace. Indeed, that is already in some degree the case. But we
must have more men, and these we can only have by the slow process of
breeding them.”[283] A fortnight later he wrote, “Orders for rotative
engines are coming in daily; but, if we part with any more men here, we
must stop taking them in.” Want of skilled workmen continued to be one
of Watt’s greatest difficulties. When the amount of work to be executed
was comparatively small, and sufficient time was given to execute it,
he was able to turn out very satisfactory workmanship;[284] but when the
orders came pouring in, new hands were necessarily taken on, who proved
a constant source of anxiety and trouble. Even the “old hands,” when
sent to a distance to fit up engines, being left, in a great measure, to
themselves, were apt to become careless and ill-conditioned. With some,
self-conceit was the stumbling-block, with others temper, but with the
greater number, drink. “I am very sorry to hear,” wrote Watt to Boulton,
“that Malcolm Logan’s disease increases. I think you should talk to him
roundly upon it, and endeavour to procure him to make a solemn resolution
or oath against drinking for some given term.” Another foreman sent to
erect an engine in Craven was afflicted with a distemper of a different
sort. He was found to have put the engine very badly together, and,
instead of attending to his work, had gone a-hunting in a pig-tail wig!
“If the half of this be true,” wrote Watt, “as I fear it is, he will not
do to be sent to New River Head [where an engine was about to be erected],
and I have at present nobody else here.... I suppose I shall be obliged
to send Joseph over, for we must not have a bad engine if it can be
helped.... We seem to be getting into our old troubles again.”[285]

    [283] Watt to Boulton, 23rd September, 1786.

    [284] He spoke of Goodwyn’s Brewery engine, finished in 1784, as
      the best that Soho had up to that time turned out--it “performed
      wonderful well--not the smallest leak and scarce any noise....
      The working gear and joints are the best I ever saw.”

    [285] Watt to Boulton, 24th February, 1786.

William Murdock continued, as before, an admirable exception. He was
as indefatigable as ever, always ready with an expedient to remedy a
defect, and willing to work at all hours. A great clamour had been raised
in Cornwall during his stay in London while setting the Albion Mill to
rights, as there was no other person there capable of supplying his place,
and fulfilling his numerous and responsible duties. Boulton deplored that
more men such as Murdock were not to be had;--“He is now flying from mine
to mine,” he wrote, “and hath so many calls upon him that he is inclined
to grow peevish; and if we take him from North Downs, Chacewater, and
Towan (all of which engines he has the care of), they will run into
disorder and ruin; they have not a man at North Downs that is better than
a stoker.”

Towards the end of 1786 the press of orders increased at Soho. A rotative
engine of forty-horse power was ordered by the Plate Glass Company to
grind glass. A powerful pumping-engine was in hand for the Oxford Canal
Company. Two engines, one of twenty and the other of ten horse power, were
ordered for Scotch distilleries, and another order was shortly expected
from the same quarter. The engine supplied for the Hull paper-mill having
been found to answer admirably, more orders for engines for the same
purpose were promised. At the same time pumping-engines were in hand for
the great French waterworks at Marli. “In short,” said Watt, “I foresee
I shall be driven almost mad in finding men for the engines ordered
here and coming in.” Watt was necessarily kept very full of work by
these orders, and we gather from his letters that he was equally full of
headaches. He continued to give his personal attention to the preparation
of the drawings of the engines, even to the minutest detail. On an engine
being ordered by Mr. Morris, of Bristol, for the purpose of driving a
tilt-hammer, Boulton wrote to him,--“Mr. Watt can never be prevailed upon
to begin any piece of machinery until the plan of the whole is settled,
as it often happens that a change in one thing puts many others wrong.
However, he has now settled the whole of yours, but waits answers to
certain questions before the drawings for the founder can be issued.”[286]

    [286] Boulton to Morris, 2nd November, 1786.

At an early period his friend Wedgwood had strongly urged upon Watt
that he should work less with his own head and hands, and more through
the heads and hands of others.[287] Watt’s brain was too active for
his body, and needed rest; but rest he would not take, and persisted in
executing all the plans of the new engines himself. Thus in his fragile,
nervous, dyspeptic state, every increase of business was to him increase
of brain-work and increase of pain; until it seemed as if not only his
health, but the very foundations of his reason must give way. At the very
time when Soho was beginning to bask in the sunshine of prosperity, and
the financial troubles of the firm seemed coming to an end, Watt wrote
the following profoundly melancholy letter to a friend:--

  “I have been effete and listless, neither daring to face business,
  nor capable of it, my head and memory failing me much; my stable
  of hobby-horses pulled down, and the horses given to the dogs for
  carrion.... I have had serious thoughts of laying down the burden
  I find myself unable to carry, and perhaps, if other sentiments
  had not been stronger, should have thought of throwing off the
  mortal coil; but, if matters do not grow worse, I may perhaps
  stagger on. Solomon said that in the increase of knowledge there
  is increase of sorrow; if he had substituted _business_ for
  knowledge, it would have been perfectly true.”[288]

    [287] “Your mind, my friend, is too active, too powerful for your
      body, and harasses it beyond its bearing. If this was the case
      with any other machine under your direction, except that in
      whose regulation your friends take so much interest, you would
      soon find out a remedy. For the present permit me to advise a
      more ample use of _the oil of delegation_ through your whole
      machinery, and I am persuaded you will soon find some salutary
      effects from this application. Seriously, I shall conclude
      in saying to you what Dr. Fothergill desired me to say to
      Brindley--‘Spare your machine a little, or like others under
      your direction, it will wear out the sooner by hard and constant
      usage.’”--Josiah Wedgwood to Watt, December 10, 1782.

    [288] Watt to his brother-in-law, Gilbert Hamilton, Glasgow, June
      18, 1786.

As might be expected, from the large number of engines sold by the firm
to this time, and the increasing amounts yearly payable as dues, their
income from the business was becoming considerable, and promised, before
many years had passed, to be very large. Down to the year 1785, however,
the outlay upon new foundries, workshops, and machinery had been so great,
and the large increase of business had so completely absorbed the capital
of the firm, that Watt continued to be paid his household expenses, at
the rate of so much a year, out of the hardware business, and no division
of profits upon the engines sold and at work had as yet been made,
because none had accrued. After the lapse of two more years, matters had
completely changed; and after long waiting, and indescribable distress of
mind and body, Watt’s invention at length began to be productive to him.
During the early part of his career, though his income had been small,
his wants were few, and easily satisfied. Though Boulton had liberally
provided for these from the time of his settling at Birmingham, Watt
continued to feel oppressed by the thought of the debt to the bankers for
which he and his partner were jointly liable. In his own little business
he had been accustomed to deal with such small sums, that the idea of
being responsible for the repayment of thousands of pounds appalled and
unnerved him; and he had no peace of mind until the debt was discharged.
Now at last he was free, and in the happy position of having a balance at
his bankers. On the 7th of December, 1787, Boulton wrote to Matthews, the
London agent,--“As Mr. Watt is now at Mr. Macgregor’s, in Glasgow, I wish
you would write him a line to say that you have transferred 4000_l._ to
his own account, that you have paid for him another 1000_l._ to the Albion
Mill, and that about Christmas you suppose you shall transfer 2007_l._
more to him, to balance.”

But while Watt’s argosies were coming into port richly laden, Boulton’s
were still at sea. Though the latter had risked, and often lost, capital
in his various undertakings, he continued as venturesome, as enterprising
as ever. When any project was started calculated to bring the steam-engine
into notice, he was immediately ready with his subscription. Thus he
embarked 6000_l._ in the Albion Mill, a luckless adventure in itself,
though productive in other respects. But he sadly missed the money, and as
late as 1789, feelingly said to Matthews, “Oh that I had my Albion Mill
capital back again!” When any mining adventure was started in Cornwall
for which a new engine was wanted, Boulton would write, “If you want a
stopgap, put me down as an adventurer;” and too often the adventure proved
a failure. Then, to encourage the Cornish Copper Mining Company, he bought
large quantities of copper, and had it sent down to Birmingham, where it
lay long on his hands without a purchaser. At the same time we find him
expending 5000_l._ in building and rebuilding two mills and a warehouse
at Soho, and an equal amount in “preparing for the coinage.” These large
investments had the effect of crippling his resources for years to come;
and when the commercial convulsion of 1788 occurred, he felt himself in
a state of the most distressing embarrassment. The circumstances of the
partners being thus in a measure reversed, Boulton fell back upon Watt
for temporary help; but, more cautious than his partner, Watt had already
invested his profits elsewhere, and could not help him.[289] He had got
together his store of gains with too much difficulty to part with them
easily; and he was unwilling to let them float away in what he regarded
as an unknown sea of speculation.

    [289] “Mr. Watt hath lately remitted _all_ his money to Scotland,
      and I have lately purchased a considerable quantity of copper
      at the request of Mr. Williams.... Besides which I have more
      than 45 tons of copper by me, 20 of which was bought of the
      Cornish Metal Company, and 20 of the Duke’s at 70_l._, and not
      an ounce of either yet used. In short, I shall be in a very
      few weeks in great want of money, and it is now impossible to
      borrow in London or this neighbourhood as all confidence is
      fled.”--Boulton to Wilson, 4th May, 1788.

To add to his distresses, Boulton’s health began to fail him. To have
seen the two men, no one would have thought that Boulton would have
been the first to break down; but so it was. Though Watt’s sufferings
from headaches, and afterwards from asthma, seem to have been almost
continuous, he struggled on, and even grew in strength and spirits. His
fragile frame bent before disease, as the reed bends to the storm, and
rose erect again; but it was different with Boulton. He had toiled too
unsparingly, and was now feeling the effects. The strain upon him had
throughout been greater than upon Watt, whose headache had acted as a
sort of safety-valve by disabling him from pursuing further study until
it had gone off. Boulton, on the other hand, was kept in a state of
constant anxiety by business that could not possibly be postponed. He
had to provide the means for carrying on his many businesses, to sustain
his partner against despondency, and to keep the whole organisation of
the firm in working order. While engaged in bearing his gigantic burden,
disease came upon him. In 1784 we find him writing to his wine-merchant,
with a cheque in payment of his account,--“We have had a visit from a new
acquaintance--the gout.” The visitor returned, and four years later we
find him complaining of violent pain from gravel and stone, to which he
continued a martyr to the close of his life. “I am very unwell indeed,”
he wrote to Matthews in London; “I can get no sleep; and yet I have been
obliged to wear a cheerful face, and attend all this week on M. l’Abbé de
Callone and his friend Brunelle.”[290] He felt as if life was drawing to
an end with him: he asked his friend for a continuance of his sympathy,
and promised to exert himself, “otherwise,” said he, “I will lay me down
and die.” He was distressed, above all things, at the prospect of leaving
his family unprovided for, notwithstanding all the labours, anxieties,
and risks he had undergone. “When I reflect,” he said, “that I have given
up my extra advantage of one-third on all the engines we are now making
and are likely to make,[291]--when I think of my children, now upon the
verge of that time of life when they are naturally entitled to expect a
portion of their patrimony,--when I feel the consciousness of being unable
to restore to them the property which their mother intrusted to me,--when
I see all whom I am connected with growing rich, whilst I am groaning
under a load of debt and annuities that would sink me into the grave if
my anxieties for my children did not sustain me,--I say, when I consider
all these things, it behoves me to struggle through the small remaining
fragment of my life (being now in my 60th year), and do my children all
the justice in my power by wiping away as many of my incumbrances as

It was seldom that Boulton wrote in so desponding a strain as this; but it
was his “darkest hour,” and happily it proved the one “nearest the dawn.”
Yet, we shortly after find him applying his energies, apparently unabated,
in an entirely new direction--that of coining money--which, next to the
introduction of the steam-engine, was the greatest enterprise of his life.

    [290] Boulton to Matthews, 22nd December, 1788.

    [291] Boulton acted with his usual open-handed generosity in
      his partnership arrangements with Watt. Although the original
      bargain between them provided that Boulton was to take
      two-thirds, and Watt one-third profits, Boulton providing the
      requisite capital and being at the risk and expense of all
      experiments, he subsequently, at Watt’s request, agreed to the
      profits being equally divided between them.



As men are known by the friends they make and the books they read, as well
as by the recreations and pursuits of their leisure hours, it will help
us to an appreciation of the characters of Boulton and Watt if we glance
briefly at the social life of Soho during the period we have thus rapidly
passed under review.

Boulton was of a thoroughly social disposition, and made friends wherever
he went. He was a favourite alike with children and philosophers, with
princely visitors at Soho, and with quiet Quakers in Cornwall. When at
home, he took pleasure in gathering about him persons of kindred tastes
and pursuits, in order at the same time to enjoy their friendship, and to
cultivate his nature by intercourse with minds of the highest culture.
Hence the friendships which he early formed for Benjamin Franklin, Dr.
Small, Dr. Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Day, Lovell Edgeworth, and
others equally eminent; out of which eventually grew the famous Lunar

Towards the close of last century, there were many little clubs or
coteries of scientific and literary men established in the provinces,
the like of which do not now exist,--probably because the communication
with the metropolis is so much easier, and because London more than ever
absorbs the active intelligence of England, especially in the higher
departments of science, art, and literature. The provincial coteries of
which we speak, were usually centres of the best and most intelligent
society of their neighbourhoods, and were for the most part distinguished
by an active and liberal spirit of inquiry. Leading minds attracted
others of like tastes and pursuits, and social circles were formed which
proved in many instances the source of great intellectual activity as
well as enjoyment. At Liverpool, Roscoe and Currie were the centres of
one such group; at Warrington, Aikin, Enfield, and Priestley, of another;
at Bristol, Dr. Beddoes and Humphry Davy of a third; and at Norwich, the
Taylors and Martineaus of a fourth. But perhaps the most distinguished of
these provincial societies was that at Birmingham, of which Boulton and
Watt were among the most prominent members.

From an early period, the idea of a society, meeting by turns at each
other’s houses, seems to have been entertained by Boulton. It was probably
suggested in the first place by his friend Dr. Small. The object of the
proposed Society was to be at the same time friendly and scientific.
The members were to exchange views with each other on topics relating to
literature, art, and science; each contributing his quota of entertainment
and instruction. The meetings were appointed to be held monthly at the
full of the moon, to enable distant members to drive home by moonlight;
and this was the more necessary as some of them--such as Darwin and
Wedgwood--lived at a considerable distance from Birmingham.

When Watt visited Soho in 1768, on his way home from London to Glasgow,
some of the members of the Society--Dr. Small, Dr. Darwin, and Mr.
Keir--were invited to meet him at _l’hôtel de l’amitié sur Handsworth
Heath_, as Boulton styled his hospitable mansion. The Society must,
however, have been in a somewhat undefined state at even a considerably
later period, as we find Boulton writing to Watt in 1776, after the
latter had settled in Birmingham, “Pray remember that the celebration of
the third full moon will be on Saturday, March 3rd. Darwin and Keir will
both be at Soho. I then propose to submit many motions to the members
respecting new laws and regulations, such as will tend to prevent the
decline of a Society which I hope will be lasting.” The principal members,
besides those above named, were Thomas Day, R. Lovell Edgeworth, Samuel
Galton, Dr. Withering, Baskerville the printer, Dr. Priestley, and James
Watt. Each member was at liberty to bring a friend with him, and thus
many visitors of distinction were present at the meetings of the Society,
amongst whom may be named Mr. Smeaton, Dr. Parr, Sir Joseph Banks,
Sir William Herschel, Dr. Solander, De Luc, Dr. Camper, and occasional
scientific foreigners.

Dr. Darwin was regarded as the patriarch of the Society. His fame as a
doctor, philosopher, and poet, was great throughout the Midland Counties.
He was extremely speculative in all directions, even in such matters as
driving wheel-carriages by steam,--also a favourite subject of speculation
with Mr. Edgeworth.[292] Dr. Darwin’s time, however, was so much engrossed
by his practice at Lichfield, that he was not very regular in his
attendance at the meetings, but would excuse himself for his absence by
such a letter as the following:--

  “DEAR BOULTON,--I am sorry the infernal divinities who visit
  mankind with diseases, and are therefore at perpetual war with
  Doctors, should have prevented my seeing all your great men at
  Soho to-day. Lord! what inventions, what wit, what rhetoric,
  metaphysical, mechanical, and pyrotechnical, will be on the wing,
  bandied like a shuttlecock from one to another of your troop
  of philosophers! while poor I, I by myself I, imprison’d in a
  postchaise, am joggled, and jostled, and bump’d, and bruised
  along the King’s high-road, to make war upon a stomach-ache or a

    [292] As early as August, 1768, we find Dr. Small in one of
      his letters describing Edgeworth to Watt as “a gentleman of
      fortune, young, mechanical, and indefatigable, who has taken a
      resolution to move land and water carriages by steam, and has
      made considerable progress in the short space of time that he
      has devoted to the study.”

    [293] Dr. Darwin to Boulton, April 5, 1778. When the Doctor
      removed to Derby in 1782, he wrote,--“I am here cut off from
      the milk of science, which flows in such redundant streams
      from your learned Lunatics, and which, I can assure you, is a
      very great regret to me.” In another letter he said,--“I hope
      philosophy and fire-engines continue to go on well. You heard
      we sent your Society an air-balloon, which was calculated to
      have fallen in your garden at Soho; but the wicked wind carried
      it to Sir Edward Littleton’s. Pray give my compliments to
      your learned Society.” In another letter he wrote,--“I hope
      Behemoth has strength in his loins. Belial and Ashtaroth are
      two other devils of consequence, and good names for engines of
      Fire.” When he heard of the Albion Mill being burnt down, the
      Doctor wrote,--“The conflagration of the Albion Mill grieved me
      sincerely, both as it was a grand and successful effort of human
      art, and also because I fear you were a considerable sufferer
      by it. I well remember poor old Mr. Seward comparing the
      Immortality of the Soul (in a devout sermon) to a fire-engine.
      He might now have made it a type of the mortality of this world,
      and the conflagration of all things.”

While Dr. Darwin and Mr. Edgeworth were amongst the oldest members of the
Society, Dr. Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen and other gases, was one
of the most recent. We find Boulton corresponding with him in 1775,[294]
principally on chemical subjects, and supplying him with parcels of
fluor spar for purposes of experiment. Five years later, in 1780, he was
appointed minister of the Presbyterian Congregation assembling in the New
Meeting-house, Birmingham; and from that time forward he was one of the
most active members of the Lunar Society, by whom he was regarded as a
great acquisition.

    [294] In a letter from Priestley to Boulton, dated London, 6th
      November, 1775, he wrote,--“I shall not quarrel with you on
      account of our different sentiments in politics. When I tell you
      what is fact, that the Americans have constructed a cannon on
      a new principle, by which they can hit a mark at a distance of
      a mile, you will say their ingenuity has come in aid of their
      cowardice! I would tell you the principle of it, but that I am
      afraid it would set your superior ingenuity to improve upon it
      for the use of their enemies.” From Boulton’s memoranda-books
      we find that the subject of improved artillery had occupied his
      attention some ten years before.

Dr. Priestley was a man of extraordinary gifts and accomplishments. He
had mastered many languages before he was twenty years old. He was well
versed in mechanical philosophy and metaphysics, a skilled dialectician,
and the most expert chemist of his time. Possessed by an irrepressible
activity and untiring perseverance, he became an enthusiast on whatever
subject he undertook, whether it was an inquiry into history, theology,
or science. He himself likened experimental philosophy to hunting, and
in his case it was the _pursuit_ of facts that mainly concerned him.
He was cheerful, hopeful, and buoyant; possessed of a most juvenile
temperament; happiest when fullest of work; ranging from subject to
subject with extraordinary versatility; laying aside metaphysics to
pursue experiments in electricity, next taking up history and politics,
and resting from these to experiment on gases,--all the while carrying
on some public controversy on a disputed point in religion or politics.
For it is a curious fact; that gentle, affectionate, and amiable though
Priestley was,--devout in temperament, and single-minded in the pursuit of
truth,[295]--he was almost constantly involved in paper wars. He described
himself, and truly, as “one of the happiest of men;” yet wherever he
went, in England or America, he stirred up controversy and exasperated
opponents, seeming to be the very Ishmael of polemics.

[Illustration: DR. PRIESTLEY.]

At the time when he settled at Birmingham, Priestley was actively engaged
in prosecuting inquiries into the constitution of bodies. He had been
occupied for several years before in making investigations as to the
gases. The discovery of carbonic acid gas by Dr. Black of Edinburgh, had
attracted his attention; and, living conveniently near to a brewery at
Leeds, where he then was, he proceeded to make experiments on the fixed
air or carbonic acid gas evolved during fermentation. From these he went
on to other experiments, making use of the rudest apparatus,--phials,
tobacco-pipes, kitchen utensils, a few glass tubes, and an old gun-barrel.
The pursuit was a source of constant pleasure to him. He had entered
upon an almost unexplored field of science. Then was the childhood of
chemistry, and he gazed with large-eyed wonder at the marvels which his
investigations brought to light. He had no teacher to guide him--nothing
but experiment; and he experimented constantly, carefully noting the
results. Observation of facts was his great object; the interpretation
of the facts he left to others. Such was Priestley, and such were his
pursuits, when he settled at Birmingham in 1780.

    [295] Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, who had no sympathy for Dr.
      Priestley’s religious views, nevertheless bears eloquent
      testimony to the beauty of his character. She speaks of him as
      “a man of admirable simplicity, gentleness, and kindness of
      heart, united with great acuteness of intellect. I can never
      forget,” she says, “the impression produced on me by the serene
      expression of his countenance. He, indeed, seemed ever present
      with God by recollection, and with man by cheerfulness....
      A sharp and acute intellectual perception, often a pointed,
      perhaps a playful expression, was combined in him with a most
      loving heart.... Dr. Priestley always spent part of every
      day in devotional exercises and contemplation; and unless the
      railroad has spoilt it, there yet remains at Dawlish a deep and
      beautiful cavern, since known by the name of “Dr. Priestley’s
      cavern,” where he was wont to pass an hour every day in solitary
      retirement.”--‘Life of Mary Ann Schimmelpenninck.’

There can be little doubt that his enthusiasm as an experimenter in
chemistry exercised a powerful influence on the minds of both Boulton and
Watt, who, though both full of work, anxiety, and financial troubles, were
nevertheless found taking an active interest from this time forward in
the progress of chemical science. Chemistry became the chief subject of
discussion at the meetings of the Lunar Society, and chemical experiments
the principal recreation of their leisure hours.

  “I dined yesterday at the Lunar Society (Keir’s house),” wrote
  Boulton to Watt; “there was Blair, Priestley, Withering, Galton,
  and an American ‘rebel,’ Mr. Collins. Nothing new except that
  some of my white Spathos Iron ore was found to contain more air
  than any ore Priestley had ever tried, and, what is singular,
  it contains no common air, but is part fixable and part

To Henderson, in Cornwall, Boulton wrote, two months later,--

  “Chemistry has for some time been my hobby-horse, but I am
  prevented from riding it by cursed business, except now and then
  of a Sunday. However, I have made great progress since I saw
  you, and am almost an adept in metallurgical moist chemistry. I
  have got all _that_ part of Bergmann’s last volume translated,
  and have learnt from it many new facts. I have annihilated Wm.
  Murdock’s bedchamber, having taken away the floor, and made the
  chicken kitchen into one high room covered over with shelves,
  and these I have filled with chemical apparatus. I have likewise
  set up a Priestleyan water-tub, and likewise a mercurial tub for
  experiments on gases, vapours, &c., and next year I shall annex
  to these a laboratory with furnaces of all sorts, and all other
  utensils for dry chemistry.”[297]

    [296] Boulton to Watt, 3rd July, 1781. Dr. Black denominated
      carbonic acid gas “fixed air” because of his having first
      discovered it in chalk, marble, &c., wherein it was _fixed_
      until the furnace or other means extracted it from its fixture.

    [297] Boulton to Henderson, 6th September, 1781.

The “Priestleyan water-tub” and “mercurial tub,” here alluded to, were
invented by Priestley in the course of his investigations, for the purpose
of collecting and handling gases; and the pneumatic trough, with glass
retorts and receivers, shortly became part of the furniture of every
chemical laboratory.

Josiah Wedgwood was another member of the Lunar Society who was infected
by Dr. Priestley’s enthusiasm for chemistry; and, knowing that the
Doctor’s income from his congregation was small, he and Boulton took
private counsel together as to the best means of providing him with funds
so as to place him in a position of comparative ease, and enable him
freely to pursue his investigations. The correspondence which took place
on the subject is creditable to all parties concerned; and the more so to
Boulton, as he was embarrassed at the time by financial difficulties of
the most distressing kind, as has been already explained in a preceding
chapter. Wedgwood had undertaken to sound Dr. Priestley, and he thus
communicated the result to Boulton:--

  “The Doctor says he never did intend or think of making any
  pecuniary advantage from any of his experiments, but gave them to
  the public with their results, just as they happened, and so he
  should continue to do, without ever attempting to make any private
  emolument from them to himself.

  “I mentioned this business to our good friend, Dr. Darwin, who
  agrees with us in sentiment, that it would be a pity that Dr.
  Priestley should have any cares or cramps to interrupt him in the
  fine vein of experiments he is in the midst of, and is willing
  to devote his time to the pursuit of, for the public good. The
  Doctor will subscribe, and has thought of some friends who, he is
  persuaded, will gladly do the same....

  “You will see by the enclosed list that one cannot decently exceed
  ten guineas unless it be under the cover of a friend’s name, which
  method I shall take if I think it necessary to write more than
  ten; but that is the subscription I shall begin with, and for
  three years certain.

  “Dr. Darwin will be very cautious who he mentions this affair
  to, for reasons of delicacy which will have equal weight with us
  all. I mentioned _your_ generous intention to Dr. P., and that we
  thought of 20_l._ each; but that, you will perceive, cannot be,
  and the Doctor says much less will suffice, as he can go on very
  well with 100_l._ per annum.”[298]

    [298] Wedgwood to Boulton, Etruria, 10th March, 1781.

Boulton wrote Wedgwood in reply, requesting that the money subscribed
should be collected and paid to Dr. Priestley in such a way as not to
wound his sensitive feelings. He suggested that in order to avoid this, it
might be better if, instead of an annual subscription, a dozen gentlemen
were found willing to give a hundred pounds each for the purpose of buying
an annuity, or investing the amount in stock for the Doctor’s benefit.

  “I have never yet spoken to him on the subject,” he added; “I
  wish to avoid it, and so doth my neighbour Galton. Therefore
  I beg you will manage the affair so that we may contribute our
  mites to so laudable a plan, without the Doctor knowing anything
  of the matter, and favour us with a line on the subject at your

    [299] Boulton to Wedgwood, 30th March, 1781.

In a subsequent part of the same letter he indicated the subject of
Priestley’s experiments at the time:--

  “We have long talked,” said he, “of Phlogiston without knowing
  what we talked about; but now that Dr. Priestley hath brought the
  matter to light, we can pour that element out of one vessel into
  another, can take it out of one metal and put it into another,
  can tell how much of it, by accurate measurement, is necessary
  to reduce a calx to a metal, which is easily done, and without
  putting that calx into contact with any visible thing. In short,
  this goddess of levity can be measured and weighed like other
  matter. For the rest, I refer you to the Doctor himself.”

The discussions at the Lunar Society were not, however, exclusively
chemical, but were varied according to the visitors who from time to time
honoured the members with their presence. Thus, in the autumn of 1782,
the venerable Smeaton, having occasion to be in Birmingham upon canal
business, was invited to attend a meeting of the Society held in Watt’s
house at Harper’s Hill. Watt thus described the evening’s proceedings in
a letter to Boulton, then in London:--

  “He [Smeaton] grows old, and is rather more talkative than he was,
  but retains in perfection his perspicuity of expression and good
  sense. He came to the Philosophers’ Meeting at my house on Monday,
  and we were receiving an account of his experiments on rotatives
  and some new ones he has made, when unluckily his facts did not
  agree with Dr. Moyes the blind philosopher’s theories, which made
  Moyes contradict Smeaton, and brought on a dispute which lost us
  the information we hoped for, and took away all the pleasure of
  the meeting, as it lasted two hours without coming half an inch
  nearer to the point.”[300]

A few days later, we find De Luc paying his first visit to Watt at
Birmingham, accompanied by Baron Reden, who desired to inspect the
Soho works. “M. De Luc,” wrote Watt, “is a modest ingenious man. On
Wednesday, Wilkinson, Reden, and he sent for me to ‘The Castle’ after
dinner, and kept me to supper. On the following day De Luc came to
breakfast, and spent the whole forenoon, insensing[301] himself with
steam and steam-engines. He is making a book, and will mention us in it.
Dr. Priestley came also to dinner, and we were all good company till six
o’clock, when Wilkinson set off for Broseley, and they for London.”

    [300] Watt to Boulton, 26th October, 1782.

    [301] A common word in the north,--meaning literally _putting
      sense into_ one.

Meanwhile Priestley continued to pursue his investigations with
indefatigable zeal, discovering one gas after another,[302] and
immediately proclaiming the facts which he brought to light, so that other
minds might be employed on them besides his own. He kept nothing secret.
Perhaps, indeed, he was too hasty in publishing the results of experiments
still unfinished, as it occasionally led him into contradictions which
a more cautious method of procedure would have enabled him to avoid.
But he was thoroughly honest, ingenuous, and single-minded in all his
proceedings, entertaining the conviction that in the end truth would
vindicate itself, and that all that was necessary was to inquire ardently,
to experiment incessantly, and to publish freely.

    [302] He discovered, in the course of his inquiries at different
      periods, no fewer than nine new gases,--oxygen, nitrogen (a
      discovery also claimed by Cavendish and Rutherford), nitric
      oxide, nitrous oxide, sulphurous acid, muriatic acid (chlorine),
      volatile ammonia, fluo-silicic acid, and carbonic oxide,--“a
      tribute to science,” as is truly observed by Dr. Henry, “greatly
      exceeding in richness and extent that of any contemporary.”

One of the most interesting speculations to which Priestley’s experiments
gave rise was the composition of water. The merit of discovering the
true theory has been variously attributed to Watt, to Cavendish, and
to Lavoisier; and perhaps no scientific question has been the subject
of more protracted controversy. It had been known for some years that
a certain mixture of inflammable and dephlogisticated air (hydrogen and
oxygen), or common air and hydrogen, could be fired by the electric spark.
The experiment had been made by Volta and Macquer in 1776–7; and in the
spring of 1781 Priestley made what he called a “random experiment” of
the same kind, to entertain some philosophical friends. He exploded a
mixture of common air and hydrogen in a glass globe by sending an electric
spark through it, and when the explosion had taken place it was observed
that the sides of the glass were bedewed with moisture. Mr. Warltire,
a lecturer on Natural Philosophy at Birmingham,[303] was present at the
experiment, and afterwards repeated it in a copper flask for the purpose
of trying “whether heat is heavy or not.” In the mean time, Mr. Cavendish,
who had for some years been occupied in the special study of pneumatic
chemistry, and satisfactorily solved the question of the true composition
of atmospheric air, having had his attention directed to Mr. Warltire’s
experiment, repeated it in London, in the summer of 1781, employing a
glass vessel instead of a copper one; and again the deposit of dew was
observed on the sides of the glass. This phenomenon, which Priestley
had disregarded, appeared to him to be of considerable importance, and
“likely to throw great light” upon the subject of the disappearance of
oxygen during combustion, which he had been pursuing experimentally by
means of his well-known eudiometer. “The liquid which resulted from the
detonations was very carefully analysed, and proved in all the experiments
with hydrogen and air, and in some of those with hydrogen and oxygen,
to be pure water; but in certain of the latter it contained a sensible
quantity of nitric acid. Till the source of this was ascertained, it would
have been premature to conclude that hydrogen and oxygen could be turned
into pure water.”[304] These experiments, however, were not published,
being still regarded as inconclusive. But with the communicativeness
which distinguishes the true man of science, Cavendish made them known to
Priestley, and, through his friend Dr. Blagden, to Lavoisier. It was not
until January, 1784, that he communicated the results of his long series
of experiments on the subject to the Royal Society.

    [303] We find among the Boulton MSS., a letter from Priestley,
      dated Calne, 28th September, 1776, introducing Warltire to
      Boulton as follows:--“As I know you will take pleasure in
      everything in which the advancement of science is concerned, I
      take the liberty to recommend to you Mr. Warltire, who has been
      some time in this part of the country, and who is going to read
      lectures on the subject of Air at Birmingham. I think him an
      excellent philosopher, as well as a modest and agreeable man.
      He is perfectly acquainted with his subject, and has prepared a
      set of experiments which have given the greatest satisfaction
      wherever he has been. He has been so obliging as to spend
      some time with me, and has given me much assistance in my late
      experiments, of which he can give you some account.”

    [304] Wilson’s ‘Life of Cavendish,’ p. 60. In this work, the
      claims of Cavendish are strongly advocated. The case in favour
      of Watt is alike strongly and ably stated by Mr. Muirhead in
      his ‘Correspondence of the late James Watt on his Discovery of
      the Theory of the Composition of Water.’

In the mean time Watt’s attention had been directed to the same subject
by the experiments of Priestley, and he was led to the same conclusions
as Cavendish, though altogether independent of him, and by means of a
different class of experiments. We find him writing to Boulton, then at
Cosgarne, as follows, in 1782:--

  “You may remember that I have often said that if water could be
  heated red hot, or something more, it would probably be converted
  into some kind of air, because steam would in that case have
  lost all its latent heat, and that it would have been turned
  wholly into sensible heat, and probably a total change of the
  nature of the fluid would ensue. Dr. Priestley has proved this by
  experiment. He took lime and chased out all the fixed air, and
  made it exceedingly caustic by long-continued and violent heat.
  He then added to it two ounces of water, and as expeditiously as
  possible subjected it again to a strong heat, and he obtained
  two ounces’ _weight_ of air; and, what is most surprising, a
  balloon which he interposed between the retort and receiver was
  not sensibly moistened, nor at all heated that could be observed.
  The air produced was but very little more than common air, and
  contained scarce any fixed air. So here is a plain account of
  where the atmospheric air comes from. The Doctor does me justice
  as to the theory.”[305]

    [305] Watt to Boulton, 10th December, 1782.

The results of this experiment were by no means conclusive. That water
was composed, at least in part, of air or gas of some kind was obvious;
but what the gas was, and whether it existed in combination with other
gases, was still a matter of conjecture. But Priestley, having proceeded
to repeat Cavendish’s experiment[306] of exploding a mixture of oxygen
and hydrogen in a glass vessel, which was followed by the usual deposit
of water, communicated the fact to Watt, and this at once put him on
the track of the true theory. In a letter to Dr. Black, he communicated
the result of Dr. Priestley’s experiments, stating that “when quite dry
pure inflammable air (hydrogen) and quite dry pure dephlogisticated air
(oxygen) are fired by the electric spark in a close vessel, he finds,
after the vessel is cold, a quantity of water adhering to the vessel
equal, or very nearly equal, to the weight of the whole air.... Are we not
then authorised to conclude, that water is composed of dephlogisticated
and inflammable air or phlogiston deprived of part of their latent heat;
and that dephlogisticated or pure air is composed of water deprived
of its phlogiston and united to heat and light; and if light be only
a modification of heat, or a component part of phlogiston, then pure
air consists of water deprived of its phlogiston or latent heat?”[307]
At the same time Watt wrote to Priestley,--who did not himself see
the force of the experiments as establishing the true composition of
water,--demonstrating the conclusions which they warranted, and which were
identical with those already drawn by Cavendish.

    [306] De Luc, Watt’s “ami zélé,” as he described himself,
      confirms the fact of Cavendish having, in 1782, communicated
      to Priestley the nature of his experiments as well as
      his theory of the composition of water, in the following
      passage:--“Vers la fin de l’année 1782, j’allai à Birmingham,
      où le Dr. Priestley s’étoit établi depuis quelques années. Il
      me communiqua alors que M. Cavendish, d’après une rémarque de
      M. Warltire, qui avoit toujours trouvé de l’eau dans les vases
      où il avoit brúlé un mélange de _l’air inflammable_ et _d’air
      atmosphérique_, s’étoit appliqué à découvrir la source de cette
      eau, et qu’il avoit trouvé qu’un mélange _d’air inflammable_
      et _d’air déphlogistique_ en proportion convenable, étant
      allumé par l’étincelle électrique, se convertissoit _tout
      entier en eau_.--Je fus frappé au plus haut degré de cette
      découverte.”--‘Idées sur la Météorologie,’ tome 2, 1787, pp.

    [307] Watt to Black, 21st April, 1783.

Whether Priestley had communicated to Watt the theory of Cavendish does
not appear; but it is probable that both arrived at the same conclusions
independently of each other; Cavendish from the result of his own
experiments, and Watt from those of Priestley. Each was quite competent
to have made the discovery; nor is it necessary for the fame of either
to strip a leaf of laurel from the brow of the other. Moreover, we are as
unwilling to believe that Cavendish would have knowingly appropriated to
himself the idea of Watt, as that Watt would have knowingly appropriated
the idea of Cavendish. As it was, however, Cavendish and Watt both claimed
priority in the discovery; the advocates of Watt’s claim resting their
case mainly on the fact of his having first stated his views on the
subject in writing, in a letter which he wrote to Dr. Priestley for the
purpose of being read to the Royal Society in April, 1783. Before that
letter was read, Watt asked that it should be withheld until the results
of some new experiments of Dr. Priestley could be ascertained. These
proving delusive, Watt sent a revised edition of the letter to his friend
De Luc, in November, but the reading of it was delayed until the 29th
April, 1784, before which time, on the 15th January, Cavendish’s paper
on the same subject had been communicated to the Society. Watt was much
annoyed at the circumstance, and alleged that Cavendish had been guilty of
“plagiarism.”[308] At a late period of his life, when all bitter feelings
on the subject had subsided, Watt declared himself indifferent to the
subject of controversy: “After all,” said he, “it matters little whether
Cavendish or I discovered the composition of water; the great thing is,
that it _is_ discovered.”

    [308] That Watt felt keenly on the subject, is obvious from
      his letter to Mr. Fry of Bristol (15th May, 1784), wherein he
      says,--“I have had the honour, like other great men, to have
      had my ideas pirated. Soon after I wrote my first paper on the
      subject, Dr. Blagden explained my theory to M. Lavoisier at
      Paris; and soon after that, M. Lavoisier invented it himself,
      and read a paper on the subject to the Royal Academy of
      Sciences. Since that, Mr. Cavendish has read a paper to the
      Royal Society on the same idea, without making the least mention
      of me. The one is a French financier; and the other a member of
      the illustrious house of Cavendish, worth above 100,000_l._, and
      does not spend 1000_l._ a year. Rich men may do mean actions.
      May you and I always persevere in our integrity, and despise
      such doings.”

Pneumatic chemistry continued to form the principal subject of discussion
at the Lunar Society, as we find from numerous references in Boulton
and Watt’s letters. “The Lunar Society,” wrote Watt to his partner,
“was held yesterday at Mr. Galton’s at Barr. It was rather dull, there
having been no philosophical news lately except Mr. Kirwan’s discovery
of an air from phosphorus, which takes fire of itself on being mixed
with common or dephlogisticated air.”[309] Among Watt’s numerous
scientific correspondents was M. Berthollet, the eminent French chemist,
who communicated to him the process he had discovered of bleaching by
chlorine. Watt proceeded to test the value of the discovery by experiment,
after which he recommended his father-in-law, Mr. Macgregor, of Glasgow,
to make trial of it on a larger scale. This, however, was postponed until
Watt himself could find time to superintend it in person. At the end
of 1787, we find him on a visit to Glasgow for the purpose, and writing
Boulton that he is making ready for the trial. “I mean,” he writes, “to
try it to-morrow, though I am somewhat afraid to attack so fierce and
strong a beast. There is almost no bearing the fumes of it. After all,
it does not appear that it will prove a _cheap_ way of bleaching, and it
weakens the goods more than could be wished, whatever good it may do in
the way of expedition.”[310] The experiment succeeded, and we find Mr.
Macgregor, in the following February, “engaged in whitening 1500 yards
of linen by the process.” The discovery, not being protected by a patent,
was immediately made use of by other firms; but the offensive odour of the
chlorine was found exceedingly objectionable, until it was discovered that
chlorine could be absorbed by slaked lime, the solution of which possessed
great bleaching power, and this process in course of time superseded all
the old methods of bleaching by chlorine.

    [309] Watt to Boulton, 20th September, 1785.

    [310] Watt to Boulton, 30th December, 1787. Boulton MSS.

It has been recently surmised that the action of light upon nitrate of
silver formed the subject of discussion at the Lunar Society, and of
experiments by Boulton and Watt; but we find no indications of this
in their correspondence. They were so unreserved with each other on
all matters of business as well as science that, had any phenomena
of so remarkable a character as those which have issued in the art of
photography become known to either Boulton or Watt, we feel confident that
they must have formed the subject of much personal discussion, and of many
written communications. But both correspondents are alike entirely silent
on the subject; and we infer that no such experiments were made by them,
or, if made, that they led to no results![311]

    [311] Mr. W. P. Smith, of the Patent Museum, raised this question
      at a meeting of the Photographic Society held on the 3rd
      November, 1863. Certain photographic pictures on metal plates
      were found in Mr. Boulton’s library at Soho, which, it was
      supposed, had not been opened for about fifty years: and it was
      accordingly inferred that these photographs had been the work
      of Mr. Boulton, or some member of the Lunar Society, about the
      year 1791. One of them was supposed to be a view of Soho House
      “before the alterations, which were made previous to 1791.”
      But the evidence is very defective, as has been clearly shown
      by M. P. W. Boulton, Esq., the grandson of Mr. Boulton, in his
      ‘Remarks concerning certain Photographs supposed to be of early
      Date’ (Bradbury and Evans, 1864). Instead of having been closed
      for fifty years, the room in which the pictures were found,
      was in constant use, and the books were freely accessible. It
      is also very doubtful whether the house represented in one of
      the pictures is old Soho House; the strong probability being
      that it is not, but a house still standing at Winson Green.
      The explanation given by Mr. M. P. W. Boulton seems to be the
      true one--that the room in question having been used by a Miss
      Wilkinson, an experimenter in photography after its invention
      by Niepce, these photographs were merely the results of her
      first amateur experiments in the art. The late Mr. Murdock,
      son of William Murdock of Soho, who lived in the immediate
      neighbourhood, was also a very good photographist, and was
      accustomed to meet Miss Wilkinson to make experiments in the
      new art.

    There can be no doubt that the Wedgwoods of Etruria, more
      particularly Josiah’s son Thomas, as well as Humphry Davy,
      were early engaged in experimenting on the action of light
      upon nitrate of silver, but they wholly failed in fixing the
      pictures. A letter, dated “January, 1799,” is quoted in the
      ‘Photographic Journal’ for Jan. 15, 1864, as from James Watt
      to Josiah Wedgwood (which must be an error, as Josiah died in
      1795), in which the following words occur:--“I thank you for
      your instructions respecting the silver pictures, about which,
      when at home, I will make some experiments.” If such experiments
      were really made, we have been unable to find any record of

Among the many foreigners who were attracted by this distinguished circle
of scientific men, we find M. Faujas-Saint-Fond, who visited Birmingham
in the course of his tour in England in 1785, while the circle was as yet
unbroken, and Watt, Boulton, Priestley, and the rest, were in the full
tide of business, invention, and inquiry. Saint-Fond had the pleasure of
dining one day with Watt when Dr. Priestley was present, and describes in
glowing terms the interest of their conversation. “Watt,” he says, “joins
to the frankness of a Scotchman the amiability and kindness of a man of
the world. Surrounded by charming children, well educated and full of
talent, he enjoys in their midst the happiness of regarding them as his
friends, while he is almost worshipped by them as the best of fathers.”
A subsequent visit which he paid to Dr. Priestley in company with Dr.
Withering, leads him to describe the philosopher’s house at Fairhill, then
about a mile and a half from Birmingham. “It is,” he says, “a charming
residence, with a fine meadow on one side, and a beautiful garden on the
other. There was an air of perfect neatness about the place within and
without.” He describes the Doctor’s laboratory, in which he conducted his
experiments, as “situated at the extremity of a court, and detached from
the house to avoid the danger of fire.”

  “It consists of several apartments on the ground floor. On
  entering it, I was struck with the sight of a simple and ingenious
  apparatus for making experiments on inflammable gas extracted
  from iron and water reduced to vapour. It consisted of a tube,
  tolerably long and thick, made out of one piece of copper to avoid
  soldering. The part exposed to the fire was thicker than the
  rest. He introduced into the tube cuttings or filings of iron,
  and instead of letting the water fall into it drop by drop, he
  preferred introducing it as vapour. The furnace was fired by coke
  instead of coal, this being the best of combustibles for intensity
  and equality of heat.... Dr. Priestley kindly allowed me to make
  a drawing of his apparatus for the purpose of communicating it to
  the French chemists who are engaged in the same investigations as
  himself.... The Doctor has embellished his rural retreat with a
  philosophical cabinet, containing all the instruments necessary
  for his scientific labours; as well as a library, containing a
  store of the most valuable books. He employs his time in a variety
  of studies. History, moral philosophy, and religion, occupy his
  attention by turns. An active, intelligent mind, and a natural
  avidity for knowledge, draw him towards the physical sciences;
  but a soft and impressible heart again leads him to religious and
  philanthropic inquiries.... I had indeed the greatest pleasure
  in seeing this amiable savant in the midst of his books, his
  furnaces, and his philosophical instruments; at his side an
  educated wife, a lovely daughter, and in a charming residence,
  where everything bespoke industry, peace, and happiness.”[312]

    [312] ‘Voyage en Angleterre, en Ecosse, et aux Iles Hébrides.’
      Par B. Faujas-Saint-Fond. 2 vols. Paris, 1797.

Only a few years after the date of this visit, while Priestley was still
busied with his chemical investigations, his house at Fairhill, thus
described by Saint-Fond, was invaded by a brutal mob, who ruthlessly
destroyed his library, his apparatus, and his furniture, and forced him
to fly from Birmingham, glad to escape with his life.

The Lunar Society continued to exist for some years longer. But one by
one the members dropped off. Dr. Priestley emigrated to America; Dr.
Withering, Josiah Wedgwood, and Dr. Darwin, died before the close of the
century; and, without them, a meeting of the Lunar Society was no longer
what it used to be. Instead of an assembly of active, inquiring men, it
was more like a meeting of spectres with a Death’s head in the chair.
The associations connected with the meeting--reminding the few lingering
survivors of the losses of friends--became of too painful a character to
be kept alive; and the Lunar Society, like the members of which it was
composed, gradually expired. Its spirit, however, did not die. The Society
had stimulated inquiry, and quickened the zeal for knowledge of all who
had come within the reach of its influence; and this spirit diffused
and propagated itself in all directions. Leonard Horner, who visited
Soho in 1809, thus referred to the continued moral influence of the
association:--“The remnant of the Lunar Society,” he says, “and the fresh
remembrance in others of the remarkable men who composed it, are very
interesting. The impression which they made is not yet worn out, but shows
itself, to the second and third generation, in a spirit of scientific
curiosity and free inquiry, which even yet makes some stand against the
combined forces of Methodism, Toryism, and the love of gain.”[313]

    [313] Horner’s ‘Memoirs and Correspondence,’ ii. 2.



The manufacture of counterfeit money was very common at Birmingham about
the middle of last century,--so common, indeed, that it had become an
almost recognised branch of trade. The machinery which was capable of
making a button with a device and letters stamped upon one side of a piece
of metal, was capable, with a few modifications, of making a coin with a
device and letters stamped upon both sides. It was as easy to counterfeit
one kind of coin as another--gold and silver, as well as copper; the
former only requiring a little extra skill in manipulation, to which the
button-makers were found fully equal.

The profits of this illegal trade were of course very large; and so long
as the coiners could find a vend for their productions, they went on
producing. But at length the public, smarting from many losses, acquired
sufficient experience to detect the spurious issues of the Birmingham
mints; and when an unusually bright shilling or guinea was offered, they
had little difficulty in pronouncing upon its “Brummagem”[314] origin.
But though profitable, the prosecution of this branch of business was
by no means unattended with risks. While some who pursued it on a large
scale contrived to elevate themselves among the moneyed class, others,
less fortunate, secured an elevation of a very different kind,--one of
the grimmest sights of those days being the skeletons of convicted coiners
dangling from gibbets on Handsworth Heath.[315]

    [314] The word “Brummagem” doubtless originated in the numerous
      issues of counterfeit money from the Birmingham mints.

    [315] The punishment for this crime was sometimes of a very brutal
      character. In March, 1789, _a woman_, convicted of coining in
      London, was first strangled by the stool being taken from under
      her, and then fixed to a stake and _burnt_ before the debtor’s
      door at Newgate!

The production of counterfeit gold and silver coins came to be avoided
as too dangerous; but the production of counterfeit copper money
continued active at Birmingham down to the middle of last century,
when numerous illegal mints were found in active operation. A Royal
proclamation was issued on the 12th July, 1751, warning the coiners
against the consequences of their illegal proceedings; and shortly after,
the Solicitor for the Mint went down to Birmingham, and had many of
the more noted offenders tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years’
imprisonment. The principal manufacturers and traders of the town met and
passed strong resolutions, condemning the practice of illegal coining;
but the evil still continued; and in 1753 it was estimated that not less
than half the copper coin in circulation was counterfeit. This disgraceful
state of the coinage suggested, and partly justified, companies, firms,
and local bodies, in circulating copper coinages of their own. These were
followed by provincial pence and halfpence, which were, in their turn,
counterfeited by pieces of baser metal. Most of the new copper coins of
all sorts, good and bad, were executed at Birmingham; and thus coining
shortly became one of the leading branches of business there.

Boulton, as the owner of the largest and best-equipped manufactory in the
neighbourhood, might have done any amount of coining that he desired; but
the disreputable character of the business deterred him from entering
upon it, and he refused all orders for counterfeit money, whether for
home or abroad.[316] He took an active part in the measures adopted by the
leading manufacturers to prevent illegal coining; and the interest which
he felt in commercial questions generally continued to keep his attention
directed to the subject. One of the greatest evils of debased coinage,
in his opinion, consisted in the serious losses that it occasioned to the
labouring people; many of the lower classes of traders and manufacturers
buying counterfeit money from the coiners at half its current value, and
paying it in wages at full value, thereby wronging and defrauding the
workmen of their hire. He came to the conclusion that the public interest
imperatively required that the whole of the so-called copper coinage
in circulation should be swept away and superseded by the issue of new
coins, the intrinsic value and superior workmanship of which should be so
palpable as effectually to suppress counterfeiting and its numerous evils.
He had many interviews with the ministers of state on the subject; and we
find him alleging in one of his letters to a friend that “his principal
reason for turning coiner was to gratify Mr. Pitt in his wishes to put an
end to the counterfeiting of money.”[317]

    [316] “I lately received a letter from a Jew about making for him
      a large quantity of base money, but I should be sorry ever to
      become so base as to execute such orders. On the contrary I have
      taken some measures to put a stop to the execution of them by
      others, and if Mr. Butcher hath any plan of that sort he would
      do well to guard against me; as I certainly shall endeavour all
      in my power to prevent the counterfeiting of British or other
      money--that being the principle on which I am acting.”--Boulton
      to Matthews, December, 1787.

    [317] Boulton to Woodman, 13th November, 1789.

Other circumstances, doubtless, concurred in keeping his attention
directed to the subject. Thus, he had become largely interested in the
copper-trade of Cornwall through the shares he held in the mines as well
as in the Copper Mining Company; and he was himself a large holder of
copper, which he had purchased from that Company at a time when they could
not dispose of it elsewhere. It was also one of his favourite ideas to
apply the power of the steam-engine to the stamping of money,--an idea
of which he has the exclusive merit. As early as 1774, Watt says Boulton
had many conversations with him on the subject; but it was not until the
year 1786 that he successfully applied the engine for the first time in
executing his contract with the East India Company for above a hundred
tons of copper coin. James Watt, in his MS. memoir of his friend Boulton,
gives the following account of the origin of his connexion with the
coining business:--

  “When the new coinage of gold took place in 178–, Mr. Boulton
  was employed to receive and exchange the old coin, which served
  to revive his ideas on the subject of coinage, which he had long
  considered to be capable of great improvement. Among other things,
  he conceived that the coin should all be struck in collars, to
  make it exactly round and of one size, which was by no means the
  case with the ordinary gold pieces; and that, if thus made, and of
  one thickness, the purity of the gold might be tested by passing
  it through a gauge or slit in a piece of steel made exactly to
  fit a properly made coin. He had accordingly a proof guinea made,
  with a raised border, and the letters _en creux_, somewhat similar
  to the penny pieces he afterwards coined for Government. This
  completely answered his intention, as any piece of baser metal
  which filled the gauge was found to be considerably lighter;
  or, if made to the proper weight, then it would not go through
  the gauge. Such money was also less liable to wear in the pocket
  than the common coin, where all the impression was prominent. The
  proposals on this head were not however approved by those who then
  had the management of His Majesty’s Mint, and there the matter
  rested for the time.

  “In 1786 Mr. Boulton and I were in France, where we saw a very
  fine crown-piece executed by Mr. P. Droz in a new manner. It was
  coined in a collar split into six parts, which came together when
  the dies were brought in contact with the blank, and formed the
  edge and the inscription upon it. Mr. Droz had also made several
  improvements in the coining-press, and pretended to others in the
  art of multiplying the dies. As, to his mechanical abilities, Droz
  joined that of being a good die-sinker, Mr. Boulton contracted
  with him to come over to England at a high salary and work at
  Soho, Mr. B. having then the prospect of an extensive copper
  coinage for the East India Company as well as a probability of
  one from Government. In anticipation of this contract, a number of
  coining-presses were constructed, and a steam-engine was applied
  to work them.

  “Mr. Droz was found to be of a very troublesome disposition.
  Several of his contrivances, being found not to answer, were
  obliged to be better contrived or totally changed by Mr. Boulton
  and his assistants. The split collar was found to be difficult of
  execution, and being subject to wear very soon when in use, it
  was consequently unfit for an extensive coinage. Other methods
  were therefore invented and applied by Mr. Boulton, and the use
  of Droz’s collar was entirely given up.”[318]

    [318] Watt says Droz “did not know so much on the subject as
      Boulton himself did,” and being found incompetent, a pretender,
      and disposed to be quarrelsome and litigious, he was shortly
      after dismissed with liberal payment.

Although the machinery of the “Hôtel de Monnaie,” which Boulton erected
at Soho, was found sufficient for the execution of his contract with
the East India Company, its action was “violent and noisy,” and did not
work to his satisfaction. He accordingly, with his usual determination
to reach the highest degree of mechanical perfection, proceeded to
remodel the whole of his coining machinery, in the course of which he
introduced many entirely new contrivances and adaptations. In this he
was ably assisted by William Murdock, Peter Ewart, James Lawson, and John
Southern; but he himself was throughout the leading spirit, and took the
principal part of the work. He originated numerous essential improvements
in the rolling, annealing, and cleaning of the metal,--in the forging,
multiplying, and tempering of the dies,--and in the construction of the
milling and cutting-out machines,--which were worked out in detail by his
assistants, after various trials, examined and tested by himself; while
the arrangement and methodising of the system of coining--in a word, the
organisation of the mint--was entirely his own work. “To his indefatigable
energy and perseverance,” wrote Murdock many years later, “in pursuit of
this, the favourite and nearly the sole object of the last twenty years
of the active part of Mr. Boulton’s life, is, in a great measure, to
be attributed the perfection to which the art of coining has ultimately

    [319] In a letter written by James Lawson to Matthew Robinson
      Boulton shortly after his father’s death, he observed,--“God
      only knows the anxiety and unremitting perseverance of your
      father to accomplish the end; and we all aided and assisted
      to the best of our powers, without ever considering by whose
      contrivance anything was brought to bear. Indeed the bringing
      of everything to bear was by your father’s perseverance, and
      by his hints and personal attendance; for often he attended and
      persevered in the experiments till we were all tired.”--Lawson
      to M. R. Boulton, January 10, 1810. Boulton MSS.

While thus labouring at the improvement of his presses, dies, and the
application of the steam-engine to the process of coining, Boulton was
actively engaged in stirring up public opinion on the subject of an
improved copper coinage. Six presses were fitted and ready for work at
Soho by the end of 1788;[320] but the only considerable orders which had
as yet been executed were the copper coinage of the East India Company,
another for the American Colonies, and a silver coinage for the Sierra
Leone Company; so that the Soho mint, notwithstanding the capital,
skill, and labour bestowed upon it, remained comparatively idle. Boulton
continued to stir up the Government through his influential friends;[321]
and he was at length called before the Privy Council and examined as to
the best means of preventing the issue of counterfeit money. He stated
his views to them at great length; and the members were so much impressed
by his statements that they authorised him to prepare and submit to them
a model penny, halfpenny, and farthing. This he at once proceeded to
do, and forwarded them to the Privy Council, accompanied by an elaborate
report, setting forth the superiority of the new coins over those then
issued from the Mint; demonstrating that their adoption would effectually
prevent counterfeiting of base copper money, and offering to guarantee
the execution of a contract for a new coinage, at “not exceeding half the
expense which the common copper coin hath always cost at his Majesty’s

    [320] We find numerous letters from Boulton to Joseph Harrison
      relative to the execution of the presses, and the manner in
      which the various details of the work were to be carried out.
      On the 16th of January, 1788, he wrote,--“Push forward with the
      utmost expedition six of the cutting-out presses and one of the
      coining presses. I have engaged to have six of each kind at work
      by this day four months.... I shall be obliged to work after
      the rate of 1500 tons a year. I fear I must have eight presses
      [eight were eventually erected] in which case I must lengthen
      the building next the Gate road. Pray push forward, and be
      silent.” Various details as to the working of the presses and
      the execution of the coin were given in succeeding letters.

    [321] To Lord Hawkesbury he wrote (14th April, 1789),--“In the
      course of my journeys I observe that I receive upon an average
      two-thirds counterfeit halfpence for change at toll-gates,
      &c.; and I believe the evil is daily increasing, as the
      spurious money is carried into circulation by the lowest class
      of manufacturers, who pay with it the principal part of the
      wages of the poor people they employ. They purchase from the
      subterraneous coiners 36 shillings’-worth of copper (in nominal
      value) for 20 shillings, so that the profit derived from the
      cheating is very large. The trade is carried on to so great
      an extent that at a public meeting at Stockport in Cheshire,
      in January last, the magistrates and inhabitants came to a
      resolution to take no other halfpence in future than those of
      the Anglesey Company [also an illegal coinage, though of full
      weight and value of copper], and this resolution they have
      published in their newspapers.”

    [322] Boulton to the Lords of the Privy Council for Trade, 16th
      December, 1787.

Although the specimens submitted by Boulton to the Privy Council were
approved and eventually adopted, the officials of the Mint were enabled,
by mere passive resistance, to delay the adoption of the new copper
coinage for more than ten years. With their lumbering machinery they could
not execute one-third part of the copper coin required for the ordinary
purposes of currency; but they could not brook the idea of inviting a
private individual to do that which they were found unable to do with all
the powers of the State at their back. Rather than thus publicly confess
their incompetency, they were satisfied to execute only one-third of the
copper coinage, leaving it to the forgers and private coiners to supply
the rest.

Boulton began to fear that the coining presses which he had erected with
so much labour, contrivance, and expenditure of money, in anticipation
of the expected Government contract, would remain comparatively idle
after all. But he did not readily give up the idea of executing the new
coinage. “Of all the mechanical subjects I ever entered upon,” he wrote
Mr. Garbett, “there is none in which I ever engaged with so much ardour
as that of bringing to perfection the art of coining in the reign of
George III., as well as of checking the injurious and fatal crime of
counterfeiting.” It occurred to him that it might be possible to overcome
the obstructiveness of officialism by means of public opinion; and he
proceeded with his usual vigour to rouse the trading interests throughout
the country on the subject. He had a statement printed and extensively
circulated among the leading merchants and manufacturers, to whom he also
sent specimens of his model penny and halfpenny, the superiority of which
to the rubbishy government and counterfeit coin then in circulation, was
made apparent at a glance. He also endeavoured to act upon the Ministry
through the influence of the King, to whom he presented copies of his
model gold, silver, and copper coins; but though his Majesty expressed
himself highly pleased with them, the question of their adoption still
remained as much in suspense as ever. The appeals to the public were
followed by numerous petitions to Parliament and memorials to the Privy
Council against counterfeit money, and in favour of the proposed Boulton

    [323] In 1787, and again in 1789, we find the merchants, traders,
      and others in Southwark urgently memorialising the Lords of the
      Treasury on the subject. The Memorial addressed to them in the
      latter year was signed by 800 of the principal inhabitants of
      the Borough, and presented to Mr. Pitt by a deputation, headed
      by Mr. Barclay, of Thrale’s Brewery. It set forth that the
      counterfeits of copper coin had become a very serious burden
      and loss, more especially to poor manufacturers, labourers, and
      others, many of whom were compelled to take counterfeit copper
      coin in payment of their commodities and wages; and concluded by
      stating that, having seen specimens of a new copper coinage made
      by Mr. Boulton of Birmingham (under order of the Lords of the
      Privy Council) the Memorialists take leave to represent, that
      such a coinage, from its greater weight and superior execution,
      would in their opinion afford to themselves and the public
      at large a certain remedy for the present grievance, and they
      therefore strongly recommended its adoption.

In the mean time, to find employment for the coining presses he had set
up, Boulton sought for orders from foreign and colonial governments. In
1790 and 1792 he executed a large quantity of beautiful copper coin[324]
for the revolutionary government of France while we remained at peace
with that country. The coin was afterwards suppressed when the government
was overturned, to the great loss of the French contractors, who,
nevertheless, honourably fulfilled their engagement with Mr. Boulton. In
1791 he executed for the colony of Bermuda a penny coinage; about the same
time he turned out a large number of provincial halfpenny tokens;[325]
and in 1794 he supplied the Madras Presidency with its four-faluce and
two-faluce coinage. By way of exhibiting the artistic skill of Soho, and
its ability to turn out first-class medal work, Boulton took advantage of
the King’s recovery in 1789, to execute a very fine medal commemorative of
the event. He sent the first specimen to his friend M. De Luc, the Queen’s
Librarian at Windsor, for presentation to her Majesty, who expressed
herself much pleased with the medal. In his letter to De Luc, Boulton
stated that he had been the more desirous of turning out a creditable
piece of workmanship, as the art of medalling was one of the most backward
in England, and had made the least progress of any during the reign of
his present Majesty. In preparing this medal, he had the co-operation of
Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy, who rendered him valuable
assistance in supplying the best models and portraits of the King from
which a satisfactory likeness could be made, and he also inspected and
corrected the engraving of the dies.

    [324] The coins were: in 1790, a five-sous piece, “Pacte
      Fédératif;” in 1792, a four sous “Hercule;” and a two sous
      “Liberté.” Boulton’s reputation as a coiner abroad, brought
      upon him while at Paris, a host of foreign schemers, one of
      whom pretended that he had discovered an infallible method of
      converting copper into gold! The schemer and his wife followed
      Boulton to Soho, accompanied by a letter of introduction from
      his friend Baumgarten. After taking measure of the schemer,
      Boulton replied to Baumgarten as follows:--

        “DEAR SIR,--Who the devil have you sent me? Is he
        the angel or the demon Gabriel? Is he a seraphim or a
        swindler? His propositions appear in such a questionable
        form, that I know not whether to pronounce him F. or
        R. or S., which are favourite letters amongst English

        “Doth he mean to make gold by Alchemy, or after the family
        receipt by which his mother and brother extracted two
        hundred guineas from my simplicity when at Paris?

        “I am content with the copper coinage, and shall leave
        the golden one to you and Gabriel. The science of alchemy
        soars so much above common sense that I never could
        obtain so much as a peep into its lower regions. This
        said Gabriel and his angel have, however, condescended to
        adopt common sense so far as to take up their lodgings in
        my cottage!

        “The worst of all is, I am at this juncture extremely busy
        and can’t bear interruption; but all that is a trifle
        when compared with the magnitude of his project, viz.
        converting 1500_l._ into 60,000_l._! But he says a small
        experiment may be made in three days and three nights in
        my laboratory. I must, however, own that I had rather be
        in Jonah’s situation during that time.

        “I wish not to offend this angelic couple, but I should
        prefer that you had them back again, with all the favours
        and profits intended for me. However, I cannot help
        wishing you a better thing; for in spite of your last
        favour I sincerely desire for you and all that are dear
        to you, many many happy and prosperous years,

        “Ever your faithful and affectionate friend,

                                                      “M. BOULTON.”

    [325] The following were the principal provincial halfpenny tokens
      executed at Soho:--1789, Cronebane and Dundee; 1791, Anglesey,
      Cornwall, Glasgow, Hornchurch, Southampton; 1793, Leeds, London,
      Penryn, John Wilkinson’s; 1794, Inverness, Lancaster; 1795,
      Bishops Stortford; 1800, Enniscorthy.

The success of the medal commemorative of the King’s preservation was
such as to induce Boulton to prosecute this department of business,--not
that it was attended with profit, for some of his most costly medals were
produced for presentation to individuals, and not for sale,--but that it
increased the reputation of Soho, and reflected new credit upon the art
manufacture of England.

In preparing the dies for his various coins and medals, we find Boulton
seeking and obtaining the assistance of Nollekens, Flaxman, Bacon, and
Wilton (sculptors); Mayer (King’s miniature painter); Gossett (modeller);
but above all, he was mostly indebted for friendly help to Benjamin West,
who cordially entered into his views of “establishing elegant records
of the medallic arts in the reign of George III.” Boulton also executed
a series of medals commemorative of the great events of the French
Revolution, for which there must have been a considerable demand, as we
find him sending at one time not less than twenty tons of historical
medals to Messrs. Monneron his Paris agents. Amongst these, we may
mention his medals of the following subjects:--The Emperor of Russia;
Assassination of the King of Sweden; Restoration of the King of Naples;
Final Interview of the King of France; Execution of the King of France;
Execution of the Queen of France; Serment du Roi; Lafayette; J. J.
Rousseau; and Respublica Gallica.[326]

    [326] The following medals were also struck by Mr. Boulton at
      Soho:--Prince and Princess of Wales on their marriage; Marquis
      Cornwallis on the peace with Tippoo; Earl Howe on his victory of
      the First of June; Hudson’s Bay Company; Slave Trade abolished;
      Chareville Forest; General Suwarrow on his successes in Italy;
      the Empress Catherine of Russia; in commemoration of British
      Victories; Union with Ireland; on the peace of 1802; Battle of
      Trafalgar; Manchester and Salford Volunteers; Frogmore Medal;
      Prince Regent of Portugal; and the Emperor Alexander of Russia.
      The execution of the Trafalgar Medal furnishes a remarkable
      illustration of Boulton’s princely munificence. It was struck
      on the occasion of Lord Nelson’s last victory, and presented
      by him, with the sanction of government, to every officer and
      man engaged in the action. He gave an additional value to the
      present by confining the medal to this purpose only.

The Boulton MS. contains a brief description, in Mr. Boulton’s
handwriting, of the Soho Mint in 1792, from which we make the following

  “This Mint consists of eight large coining-machines, which are
  sufficiently strong to coin the largest money in current use, or
  even medals; and each machine is capable of being adjusted in a
  few minutes, so as to strike any number of pieces of money from
  fifty to one hundred and twenty per minute, in proportion to
  their diameter and degree of relief; and each piece being struck
  in a steel collar, the whole number are perfectly round and of
  equal diameter. Each machine requires the attendance of one boy
  of only twelve years of age, and he has no labour to perform. He
  can stop his press one instant, and set it going again the next.
  The whole of the eight presses are capable of coining, at the same
  time, eight different sizes of money, such as English crowns,
  6-livre pieces, 24-sous pieces, 12-sous, or the very smallest
  money that is used in France. The number of blows at each press
  is proportioned to the size of the pieces, say from fifty to
  one hundred and twenty blows per minute, and if greater speed is
  wanted, he has smaller machines that will strike 200 per minute.

  “As the blows given by Mr. B.’s machinery are much more uniform
  than what are given by the strength of men’s arms when applied
  to the working of the common press, the dies are not so liable to
  break, nor the spirit of the engraving to be so soon injured; yet
  nevertheless, from the natural imperfections of steel, and other
  unavoidable causes, some time will be lost in changing the dies
  and other interruptions. However, it is decided by experience that
  Mr. Boulton’s new machinery works with less friction, less wear,
  less noise, is less liable to be out of order, and can strike
  very much more than any apparatus ever before invented; for it is
  capable of striking at the rate of 26,000 écus or English crowns,
  or 50,000 of half their diameter, in one hour, and of working
  night and day without fatigue to the boys, provided two sets of
  them work alternately for ten hours each.”

When Boulton’s eight presses were in full work, the quantity of copper
coin they turned out was very large. They could work off with ease twelve
hundred tons of coin annually. The quantity of copper thus consumed was so
great that a difficulty began to be experienced in keeping up the supply.
Instead of being glutted with the metal, as Boulton had been before
the Mint was started, he had now considerable difficulty in obtaining
sufficient for his purposes. He seems to have been, in some measure, the
victim of a combination to keep him out of a supply; for when the holders
of copper found out that his contract with the East India Company required
him to deliver the coin within a given time, and that he must have the
metal, they raised the prices upon him, and copper went up about 6_l._ a
ton. On this, the Birmingham white metal button-makers lowered the wages
of their workmen, alleging as the cause the rise in the price of copper,
“for which they must thank Mr. Boulton.” The usual strikes followed, with
meetings of trades delegates and street commotions. Though Boulton had
confidence in the Birmingham workmen generally, among whom he had the
reputation of being a good master, he feared that, in their excited state,
malice might stir them to mischief; and he apprehended an attack upon
his manufactory. For this he accordingly made due preparation, placing
a strong armed guard of his own workmen upon Soho, having the fullest
confidence in their fidelity. Writing to his friend Wilson in Cornwall,
he said,--

  ... “From the misrepresentations that have been made by the
  delegates, this town has been greatly misguided, and I expect
  every hour riots of a serious nature.

  “Workmen are parading the streets with cockades in their hats.
  They are assembled by beat of drum, and headed by Ignorance and
  Envy, with their eyes turned towards Soho.

  “Yet I am no competitor with the Birmingham trades. I follow no
  business but what I have been myself the father of, and I have
  done much more for the Birmingham manufactures than any other
  individual. I have declined the trade of White Metal Buttons,
  which is the article so much affected by the rise of metals, and
  that in which the rioters are employed.

  “I mix with no clubs, attend no public meetings, am of no party,
  nor am I a zealot in religion; I do not hold any conversation with
  any Birmingham persons; and therefore I know no grounds but what
  may be suggested by wicked and envious hearts for supposing me to
  be the cause of the late rise of copper.

  “However, I am well guarded by justice, by law, by men, and by

    [327] Boulton to Wilson, 26th February, 1792. Boulton MSS.

The danger, however, shortly passed, and the threatened attack was not

It was not until the year 1797 that Boulton was employed to execute a
copper coinage for Britain. Ten years before, encouraged by the Lords
of the Treasury, he had fitted up the Mint machinery at a heavy cost,
in anticipation of this very order; and now, after executing coinages
for many foreign governments, the order came at last. The new coins
consisted of twopenny, penny, halfpenny, and farthing pieces. Altogether,
about 4200 tons of these coins were issued from the Soho Mint between
1797 and 1806. So sensible were the authorities at the Royal Mint of
the advantages of Mr. Boulton’s improvements in coining machinery, that
they employed him to erect the new Mint on Tower Hill, one of the most
complete establishments of the kind until then in existence. The plans
of the new Mint, as regarded the distribution of the buildings connected
with the mechanical department, were arranged by him; and the coining
machinery and steam-engines were executed at Soho under his immediate
direction, though he was at the time labouring under the infirmities
of age as well as suffering under the pressure of a painful disease. He
had also the honour of supplying Royal Mints for the Russian, Spanish,
and Danish governments; and at a later period for Mexico, Calcutta, and
Bombay. “In short,” said Mr. Watt, in the MS. memoir from which we have
already quoted, “had Mr. Boulton done nothing more in the world than he
has accomplished in improving the coinage, his name would deserve to be
immortalised; and if it be considered that this was done in the midst of
various other important avocations, and at enormous expense,--for which,
at the time, he could have had no certainty of an adequate return,--we
shall be at a loss whether most to admire his ingenuity, his perseverance,
or his munificence. He has conducted the whole more like a sovereign than
a private manufacturer; and the love of fame has always been to him a
greater stimulus than the love of gain. Yet it is to be hoped that, even
in the latter point of view, the enterprise answered its purpose.”




The steam-engine had now become firmly established as a working power.
Beginning as a water pumper for miners, it had gradually been applied
to drive corn and cotton mills, to roll and hammer iron, to coin money,
to work machinery, and to perform the various labour in which the power
of men and horses, of wind and water, had before been employed. The
numerous orders for new engines which came in at Soho kept the works
increasingly busy. Many skilled workmen had by this time been trained into
expertness and dexterity; and, being kept to their special departments
of work,--fathers training their sons to work with them at the same
benches,--a degree of accuracy and finish was reached which contributed
to establish and maintain the prestige of the manufactory. The prosperity
of the firm was also materially promoted by the able assistants who had
been trained at Soho, and were in due time promoted to superintend special
departments of the business. Among these were Murdock, Walker, Southern,
Ewart, and Lawson, who enjoyed the fullest confidence of their chiefs,
and repaid it with unswerving loyalty.

When the concern had become thoroughly organised under these able heads
of departments, Boulton and Watt began to breathe more freely. Their
financial difficulties had now disappeared, and instead of laying out
capital, they had begun to accumulate it. They had laboured hard for their
reward and richly earned it; and after their long up-hill struggle, they
well deserved rest and peace at last. They now began to take occasional
journeys of recreation, with which they varied their journeys of business.
Thus, in the autumn of 1789, we find Boulton making a tour in Derbyshire,
during which he was overtaken at Buxton by a letter from the Lords of
the Privy Council on coining business, giving him “marching orders for
London;” but a party having been formed to visit the Peak Cavern, he
decided “to obey the Ladies rather than the Lords.” Three days later,
however, we find him in London, “writing in a full chattering coffee-house
at Charing Cross,” and desiring his friend Mr. Barrow to pay his respects
to the ladies whom he had so hurriedly left. While in London, he received
a letter inviting him to pay a visit to Holland and stand godfather to his
friend Mr. Hoofletter’s son; to which he replied, that he would be glad
to stand godfather to the boy and have the name of Boulton associated with
an honest race, but was sorry that he could not assist at the christening
or at the dinner. “But pray act for me,” he added; “do everything that’s
proper (as is the custom in the country); give the nurse five guineas
from me, and I will repay you. My best respects to Mrs. Hoofletter, and
my blessing on the young Christian.”

Watt’s troubles and anxieties also were in course of gradual abatement.
Though still suffering from headaches, asthma, and low spirits, he seems
on the whole to have become more satisfied with his lot. Prosperity agreed
with him as it does with most people. It is a condition easy to bear, and
Watt took to it kindly. As years passed over his head, he became placid,
contented, and even cheerful. His health improved, and he enjoyed life in
his old age as he had never done in his youth. He ceased longing for the
rest of the grave, and gave over “cursing his inventions.” On the other
hand, he took pleasure in looking back over the long and difficult road
he had traversed, and in recounting the various steps by which he had
perfected his great inventions. Nor did he cease to invent; for he went on
inventing new things to the close of his life; but he followed the pursuit
as a recreation and delight, and not as a business and a drudgery.

Watt too, like his partner, began to make tours of pleasure, for the
purpose at the same time of gathering health and seeing the beauties of
nature. In August, 1789, he wrote Boulton from Cheltenham, that he had
been making a delightful journey through the Western Counties, by way of
Worcester, Malvern, Hereford, and Chepstow, and that he felt in better
health and spirits than he had been for a very long time. Occasional
letters reached him from Birmingham about orders received for engines,
nothing being done without first consulting him. That the concern was
thriving, may be inferred from the comparative indifference with which
he now regarded such orders. An engine having been ordered by a doubtful
person, Watt wrote--“I look upon such orders as of little value. They are
so precarious in their duration, and in this case there is risk of bad
payment or swindling. Whatever care we take, he is like a shaved pig with
a soaped tail.” On a demand being made upon him for abatement of dues,
he wrote--“We have never made concessions to anybody but they have been
attended with loss to us and half a dozen more; and it would appear that,
if our patent lasted long enough, the power of a horse would grow to that
of an elephant.”[328]

    [328] There was a great deal of graphic vigour in Watt’s
      correspondence about engines. Thus, in the case of an engine
      supplied to F. Scott and Co. to drive a hammer, it appears that
      instead of applying it to the hammer only, they applied it also
      to blow the bellows. The consequence was, that it worked both
      badly. They had also increased the weight of the hammer. Watt
      wrote,--“It was easy to foresee all this; and the only adequate
      remedy is to have another engine to blow the bellows. It is
      impossible that a regular blast can be had while the engine
      works the hammer and bellows, _without a regulating belly as
      big as a church_.... They have been for _having a pocket bible
      in large print_. If they mean to carry on their work regular,
      they must have a blowing engine; otherwise they will lose the
      price of one in a few months.”

In the course of the following summer, Watt visited the pleasantest spots
in the neighbourhood of London, and amongst other places took Windsor
in his way, where he had the honour of an interview with the King. He
had already met his Majesty at Whitbread’s brewery in the early part of
1787, for the purpose of explaining to him the action of the new rotary
engine; and the King had expressed the desire to see him again when in
the neighbourhood of Windsor. The following is Watt’s brief account of
the visit:--

  “At Windsor I had a short conversation with the King. He never
  mentioned you nor the coinage, nor anything that led to it;
  therefore I could not bring it on; nor do I believe it could
  have been of any service. He asked about engines, and how the
  Albion mill was going on?--_Answer_: Very well in respect to
  grinding, but not so well in regard to the trade. _Asked_: Who
  was the manager?--_Answer_: Mr. J. Wyatt, who made the wooden
  hospitals. He observed, that Wyatt was not bred to the milling
  business; how had he learnt it?--_Answer_: That he was a man
  of ability and observation. _Asked_: What sort of engines were
  we making?--_Answer_: For almost everything, but at present
  principally for brewers, distillers, cotton-spinners, iron-men,
  &c.--_Asked_: How we were paid for them?--_Answer_: By horses
  power, 5_l._ a year in the country, and that we made none under
  four-horses power.--_Asked_: If these premiums afforded sufficient
  profit?--_Answer_: That they did in large engines, but not in

    [329] Watt to Boulton, 27th June, 1790.

As Boulton and Watt advanced in years they looked forward with pleasure
to the prospect of their two eldest sons--Matthew Robinson Boulton and
James Watt, junior--joining them in the business they had established,
and relieving them of the greater part of their anxieties and labours
in connexion with it. Both were young men of intelligence and character,
carefully educated, good linguists, and well versed in practical science.
We find many references to the education of the two young men in the
letters of Boulton; few or none in those of Watt. The former alike
attracted young people and was attracted by them, entering heartily into
their pursuits; the latter was too much absorbed by study, by inventions,
and by business, to spare time for the purpose. Besides, he was, like his
countrymen generally, reserved and undemonstrative in all matters relating
to the feelings and affections.

Both boys were trained and educated so as to follow in their fathers’
steps. Every pain was taken to give them the best culture, and to imbue
them with the soundest principles. The two boys usually spent their
holidays together at Soho; and, growing up together, they learnt to think,
and feel, and work together.

  “Jim returns to school this evening,” wrote Boulton, to Watt in
  Cornwall; “he has behaved exceedingly well, and not a single bill
  of indictment has been found against him. He had got it into his
  head that he would not be an engineer, which I did not contradict,
  but I gave him and Matt the small wooden water-wheel, which they
  proceeded to erect below my duck-pond, and there worked a forge;
  but not having water enough, necessity has put them upon erecting
  a Savery’s engine, which is not yet finished, though they are
  both exceedingly keen upon it. We have killed many poor robins
  by pouring fixable air upon them, and had some amusement in our
  electrical and chemical hobby-horsery, which the young ones like
  much better than dry Latin. Jim desires me to ask you to give him
  leave to learn French.”

At the same time Boulton’s own son was making good progress under the Rev.
Mr. Stretch, to whom Boulton wrote,--

  “Baron Reden has gone to the North. On his return, he will leave
  his son with you for a year or two, and then invites Matt to
  return with him to Germany. Youth is the time to learn languages,
  and the Baron’s offer is certainly a great temptation ... let him
  [Matt] not neglect the present, but apply himself so as to become
  well grounded in Grammar and Latin ... he is capable, but not of
  close application, to which he must be inured, as no proficiency
  of any kind can be acquired without it.”

The Baron’s offer was not, however, accepted; but desirous that his son
should acquire proficiency in French, Boulton took him over to Paris,
towards the end of 1786, and placed him under a competent master. Many
kindly letters passed between father and son during the latter’s stay at
Paris. The young man spent rather more money than his father thought could
do him good. He therefore asked him to keep an account of his personal
expenses, which “must balance exactly,” and implored him above all things
to “keep out of bad company.”

  “The future reputation and happiness of your life,” wrote
  the anxious father, “depend upon your present conduct. I must
  therefore insist that you do not go strolling about Sodom and
  Gomorrah under any pretence whatever.... It will not be pleasant
  to you to read this, but I must do my duty to you or I shall not
  satisfy my own conscience. I therefore hope you will do your duty
  to yourself, or you cannot do it to me. There is nothing on earth
  I so much wish for as to make you _a man_, a good man, a useful
  man, and consequently a happy man.”[330]

The father’s anxieties abated with time; the son applied himself
assiduously to French and German, and gave promise of becoming a man of
ability and character. Writing to his friend Matthews, Boulton said--“Matt
is a tolerable good chemist.... He hath behaved very well, and I shall be
glad when the time arrives for him to assist me in the business.” In the
summer of 1788, young Boulton paid his father a holiday visit at Soho,
returning again to Paris to finish his studies. Writing of his departure,
to Matthews in London, the father said--“I hope that my son is set off
for Dover: my heart overflows with blessings and love to him.”[331]

    [330] Boulton to his son, 19th December, 1787.

    [331] Boulton to Matthews, 25th August, 1788. In a letter dated
      the preceding day, he wrote--“I have been exceedingly harassed
      last week, have many letters before me unanswered. I cannot
      sleep at nights, and the room I write in is so hot by the
      fire-engine chimney as to relax me, and my head is distracted by
      the noise of the engine, by the making and riveting of boilers,
      and by a constant knocking at my door by somebody or other;
      but I believe and suspect that the separation of my son from me
      contributes more to the oppression of my spirits than anything

The education of young Watt was equally well cared for. After leaving
school at Birmingham, his father sent him for a year to Mr. Wilkinson’s
ironworks at Bersham, to learn carpentry in the pattern shop.[332] He
then returned to his father’s, from whence he was sent to school at
Geneva, where he remained for three years perfecting himself in the modern
languages. On his return to England in 1788, we find Boulton writing
to Mr. Barrow of Manchester, asking him to obtain a position for young
Watt in some respectable counting-house, with a view to his acquiring
a thorough commercial training. He was eventually placed in the house
of Messrs. Taylor and Maxwell, where he remained for about two years,
improving himself in his knowledge of business affairs. His father’s
reputation and standing, as well as his own education and accomplishments,
served to introduce the young gentleman to many friends in Manchester;
and, although far from extravagant in his habits, he shortly found that
the annual sum allowed him by his father was insufficient to pay for his
board, clothing, and lodging, and at the same time enable him to keep
clear of debt. Knowing Boulton’s always open hand and heart, and his
sympathy for young people, the embarrassed youth at once applied to him
for help. Why he did not apply to his father will be best understood from
his own letter:--

    [332] “I have sent my son to Mr. Wilkinson’s ironworks at Bersham,
      in Wales, where he is to study practical book-keeping, geometry,
      and algebra, at his leisure hours; and three hours in the day
      he works in a carpenter’s shop. I intend he should stay there a
      year; what I shall do with him next I know not, but I intend to
      fit him for some employment not so precarious as my own.”--Watt
      to Mrs. Campbell, 30th May, 1784.

  “I am at this moment,” he explained, “on the best footing possible
  with my father, but were I to inform him of my necessities, I
  do not know what would be the consequence. Not that I suppose
  the money in itself would be an object to him, but because he
  would look upon it in the light of encouraging what he would call
  my extravagances. Never having been a young man himself, he is
  unacquainted with the inevitable expenses which attend my time
  of life, when one is obliged to keep good company, and does not
  wish to act totally different from other young men. My father’s
  reputation, and his and my own station in life, require that I
  should live at least on a decent footing. I am not conscious of
  having committed any foolish extravagances, and I have avoided
  company as much as possible; but I have also constantly avoided
  the reputation of avarice, or of acting meanly on any occasion.
  My father, unfortunately for me, measures the present times and
  circumstances by those when he was of my age, without making the
  proper allowances for their immense disparity; consequently it is
  in vain for me to endeavour to convince him of the necessity of
  my conduct.”[333]

    [333] Watt, jun., to Boulton, 4th December, 1789.

He concluded by expressing his sense of Mr. Boulton’s many friendly acts
towards him, and confessing that there was no other person on whom he
could so confidently rely for help in his emergency. The reply of Boulton
was all that he could desire. With sound fatherly advice,[334] such as he
would have given to his own son under similar circumstances, he sent him
a draft for 50_l._, the amount required by young Watt to clear him of his

    [334] Mr. Boulton having been absent at Bath, some time elapsed
      before young Watt’s letter reached him. Receiving no reply, the
      youth became apprehensive that his letter had fallen into his
      father’s hands, and wrote a second letter expressing his fears.
      Thus Boulton replied to both letters at the same time, informing
      his correspondent for his satisfaction that they had reached
      him “unopened.” He proceeded--

        “I now send agreeably to your request, my draft for
        50_l._--payable to myself, that I might thereby conceal
        your name from all persons; and you may tranquillise
        yourself in respect to your father, as I promise you he
        shall not know aught of the transaction.

        “Although I would not willingly give you pain, yet I must
        honestly tell you that I am not very sorry you experienced
        some pain and anxiety by my delay; that you may not only
        feel how uncomfortable it is to be in debt, but that you
        may experience ere long how pleasant and how cheerful
        is independence, which no man can possess who is in that

        “It is possible your father’s ideas may be too limited in
        regard to the _quantum_ necessary for your expenses; but
        I think it equally probable that yours may be too diffuse,
        and therefore can’t help wishing it in my power to expand
        the one and contract the other.

        “I know and speak from experience, that the principal
        articles of expenditure in the generality of young men
        who live in large towns are such as produce the least
        additions to their happiness or reputation; for which as
        well as for some others I know of, I cannot help urging
        you to _cut your coat according to your cloth_, as the
        sure means of preserving the good opinion of your father,
        and as the most likely to induce him to open his hand more
        liberally to you.

        “It’s a subject I can’t speak to him upon without raising
        his suspicions, but you may state to him such arguments
        as may seem meet to yourself in favour of a further
        allowance, and if he speaks to me upon the subject, I will
        do the best I can for you.

        “I wish you to keep in view that all our great Cornish
        profits have died away till now they are very small,--that
        your father is building an expensive house,--and that he
        is married. For these and other reasons, I wish you to
        alter the scale of your expenses, as the surest means
        of securing your credit and your happiness, which I am
        desirous of promoting or I should not have expressed
        myself so freely and so unreservedly....

                                              “I remain, dear Watt,
                            “Your faithful and affectionate friend,
                                                 “MATTHEW BOULTON.”

        --Boulton to Watt, junr., 26th December, 1789. Boulton

Among the friendships which he formed at Manchester, was one of an
intimate character with Mr. Cooper, a gentleman engaged in an extensive
business, fond of books, and a good practical chemist. We find young
Watt requesting Boulton to recommend to Mr. Cooper “a person to keep
his library in order and to make experiments for him, he not having time
enough to attend to the details of them himself.”[335] Cooper was besides
a keen politician, and took an active interest in the discussion of the
important questions then agitating the public mind. Watt was inflamed by
the enthusiasm of his friend, and with the ardour of youth entered warmly
into his views as to the regeneration of man and the reconstruction of

    [335] Watt, junr. to Boulton, 26th March, 1789.

Mrs. Schimmelpenninck has, in her autobiography, given a vivid picture
of the interest excited in the circle of friends amongst whom she moved,
by the thrilling events then occurring in France, and which extended
even to the comparatively passionless philosophers of the Lunar Society.
At one of the meetings held at her father’s house in the summer of 1788
“Mr. Boulton,” she says, “presented to the company his son, just returned
from a long sojourn at Paris. I well remember my astonishment at his
full dress in the highest adornment of Parisian fashion; but I noticed,
as a remarkable thing, that the company (which consisted of some of the
first men in Europe) all with one accord gathered round him, and asked
innumerable questions, the drift of which I did not fully understand.
It was wonderful to me to see Dr. Priestley, Dr. Withering, Mr. Watt,
Mr. Boulton himself, and Mr. Keir, manifest the most intense interest,
each according to his prevailing characteristics, as they almost hung
upon his words; and it was impossible to mistake the indications of deep
anxiety, hope, fear, curiosity, ardent zeal, or thoughtful gravity, which
alternately marked their countenances, as well as those of my own parents.
My ears caught the words ‘Marie Antoinette,’ ‘The Cardinal de Rohan,’
‘diamond necklace,’ ‘famine,’ ‘discontent among the people,’ ‘sullen
silence instead of shouts of “Vive le Roi!”’ All present seemed to give
a fearful attention. Why, I did not then well know, and, in a day or two,
these things were almost forgotten by me; but the rest of the party heard,
no doubt, in this young man’s narrative, the distant, though as yet faint
rising of the storm which, a year later, was to burst upon France and,
in its course, to desolate Europe.”[336] A few short months passed, and
the reign of brotherhood began. “One evening, towards the end of July,”
continues Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, “we saw at a distance a vehicle (usually
employed to carry servants to town or church) returning at more than its
usual speed. After some minutes the door of the drawing-room opened, and
in burst Harry Priestley, a youth of sixteen or seventeen, waving his hat,
and crying out, ‘Hurrah! Liberty, Reason, brotherly love for ever! Down
with kingcraft and priestcraft. The majesty of the people for ever! France
is free, the Bastille is taken!’”[337] “I have seen,” she adds, “the
reception of the victory of Waterloo and of the carrying of the Reform
Bill; but I never saw joy comparable in its intensity and universality to
that occasioned by the early promise of the French Revolution.”

    [336] ‘Life of Mary Ann Schimmelpenninck,’ 3rd ed., 1859, pp.

    [337] Ibid., p. 181.

The impressionable mind of Dr. Priestley was moved in an extraordinary
degree by the pregnant events which followed each other in quick
succession at Paris; and he entered with zeal into the advocacy of the
doctrines of liberty, equality, and fraternity, so vehemently promulgated
by the French “friends of man.” His chemical pursuits were for a time
forgotten, and he wrote and preached like one possessed, of human
brotherhood, and of the downfall of tyranny and priestcraft. He hailed
with delight the successive acts of the National Assembly abolishing
monarchy, nobility, church, corporations, and other long established
institutions. He had already been long and hotly engaged in polemical
discussions with the local clergy on disputed points of faith; and now he
addressed a larger audience in a work which he published in answer to Mr.
Burke’s famous attack on the ‘French Revolution.’ Burke, in consequence,
attacked him in the House of Commons; while the French Revolutionists on
the other hand hailed him as a brother, and admitted him to the rights of
French citizenship.[338]

    [338] “The address of the Société des Amis de la Constitution
      de Bourdeaux” to the Revolutionary Society in London, dated
      the 21st May, 1791, contains the following passage:--“Le jour
      consacré à porter le deuil de M. Price [the Rev. Dr. Price
      recently dead,--an ardent admirer of the French Revolution in
      its early stages], nous avons entendu la lecture du Discours de
      M. l’Evêque d’Autun sur la Liberté des Cultes: on nous a fait
      ensuite le rapport des ouvrages de MM. Priestley et Payne qui
      ont vengé M. Price des ouvrages de M. Burke; et c’est ainsi
      que nous avons fait son oraison funèbre. Peut-être, Messieurs,
      apprendrez vous avec quelque intérêt, que nous avons inscrit
      dans la liste de nos Membres les noms de MM. Payne et Priestley;
      c’est l’hommage de notre estime, et l’estime d’hommes libres a
      toujours son prix.”


These proceedings concentrated on Dr. Priestley an amount of local
exasperation that shortly after burst forth in open outrage. On the
14th of July, 1791, a public dinner was held at the principal hotel to
celebrate the second anniversary of the French Revolution. About eighty
gentlemen were present, but Priestley was not of the number. A mob
collected outside, and after shouting “Church and King,” they proceeded to
demolish the inn windows. The magistrates shut their eyes to the riotous
proceedings, if they did not actually connive at them. A cry was raised,
“To the New Meeting-house,” the chapel in which Priestley ministered; and
thither the mob surged. The door was at once burst open, and the place set
on fire. They next gutted the old Meeting-house, and made a bonfire of the
pews and bibles in the burying-ground. It was growing dusk, but the fury
of the mob had not abated. They made at once for Dr. Priestley’s house
at Fairhill, about a mile and a half distant. The Doctor and his family
had escaped about half an hour before their arrival; and the house was
at their mercy. They broke in at once, emptied the cellars, smashed the
furniture, tore up the books in the library, destroyed the philosophical
and chemical apparatus in the laboratory, and ended by setting fire to
the house. The roads for miles round were afterwards found strewed with
shreds of the valuable manuscripts in which were recorded the results of
twenty years labour and study,--a loss which Priestley continued bitterly
to lament until the close of his life.

    [339] The representation given above of Dr. Priestley’s house is
      taken from a rare book, entitled ‘Views of the Ruins of the
      principal Houses destroyed during the Riots at Birmingham,
      1791.’ London, 1792.

Thus an utter wreck was made of the philosopher’s dwelling at Fairhill.
The damage done was estimated at upwards of 4000_l._, of which the
victim recovered little more than one-half from the county. The next
day, and the next, and the next, the mob continued to run riot, burning
and destroying. On the second day, about noon, they marched to Easyhill
and attacked and demolished the mansion of Mr. Ryland, one of the most
munificent benefactors of the town. Bordesley Hall, the mansion of Mr.
Taylor, the banker, was next sacked and fired. The shop of the estimable
William Hutton, the well-known bookseller and author, was next broken
open and stripped of everything that could be carried away; and from his
shop in the town they proceeded to his dwelling-house at Bennett’s Hill
in the country, and burnt it to the ground.[340] On the third day, six
other houses were sacked and destroyed; three of them were blazing at the
same time. On the fourth day, which was a Sunday, the rioters dispersed in
bands over the neighbourhood, levying contributions in money and drink;
one body of them burning on their way the Dissenting chapel-house and
minister’s dwelling-house at Kingswood, seven miles off. Other Dissenters,
of various persuasions, farmers, shopkeepers, and others, had their houses
broken into and robbed in open day. It was not until the Sunday evening
that three troops of the Fifteenth Light Dragoons entered Birmingham
amidst the acclamations of the inhabitants, who welcomed them as
deliverers. At the instant of their arrival, the mob had broken into Dr.
Withering’s house at Edgbaston Hall, and were rioting in his wine-cellars,
but when they heard that “the soldiers” had come at last, they slunk away
in various directions.

    [340] “At midnight,” says Hutton, “I could see from my house the
      flames of Bordesley Hall rise with dreadful aspect. I learned
      that after I quitted Birmingham the mob attacked my house
      there three times. My son bought them off repeatedly; but in
      the fourth, which began about nine at night, they laboured
      till eight the next morning, when they had so completely
      ravaged my dwelling that I write this narrative in a house
      without furniture, without roof, door, chimneypiece, window,
      or window-frame.”--‘The Life of William Hutton,’ written by
      himself. London, 1816.

The members of the Lunar Society, or “the Lunatics,” as they were
popularly called, were especially marked for attack during the riots. A
common cry among the mob was “No philosophers--Church and King for ever!”
and some persons, to escape their fury, even painted “No philosophers”
on the fronts of their houses! There could be no doubt as to the meaning
of this handwriting on the wall. Priestley’s house had been sacked, and
Withering’s plundered. Boulton and Watt were not without apprehensions
that an attack would be made upon them, as the head and front of the
“Philosophers” of Birmingham. They accordingly prepared for the worst;
called their workmen together, pointed out to them the criminality of the
rioters’ proceedings, and placed arms in their hands on their promising
to do their utmost to defend the premises if attacked. In the mean time
everything portable was packed up and ready to be removed at a moment’s
notice. Thus four days of terror passed, but the mob came not; Watt
attributing the safety of Soho to the fact that most of the Dissenters
lived in another direction.[341]

    [341] “Though our principles, which are well known, as friends to
      the established government and enemies of republican principles,
      should have been our protection from a mob whose watchword was
      Church and King, yet our safety was principally owing to most
      of the Dissenters living south of the town; for after the first
      moments they did not seem over nice in their discrimination
      of religion and principles. I, among others, was pointed out
      as a Presbyterian, though I never was in a meeting-house in
      Birmingham, and Mr. Boulton is well known as a Churchman. We had
      everything most portable packed up, fearing the worst. However,
      all is well with us.”--Watt to De Luc, 19th July, 1791.

Many of the rioters were subsequently apprehended, and several of
them were hanged; but the damage inflicted on those whose houses had
been sacked was irreparable, and could not be compensated. As for Dr.
Priestley, he shook the dust of Birmingham from his feet, and fled to
London; from thence emigrating to America, where he died in 1804.

While such was the blind fury of the populace of Birmingham, the
principles of the French Revolution found adherents in all parts of
England. Clubs were formed in London and the principal provincial
towns, and a brisk correspondence was carried on between them and the
Revolutionary leaders of France. Among those invested with the rights
of French citizenship were Dr. Priestley, Mr. Wilberforce, Thomas Tooke,
and Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Mackintosh. Thomas Paine and Dr. Priestley
were chosen members of the National Convention; and though the former took
his seat for Calais, the latter declined, on the ground of his inability
to speak the language sufficiently. Among those carried away by the
political epidemic of the time, were young James Watt and his friend Mr.
Cooper of Manchester. In 1792 they were deputed, by the “Constitutional
Society” of that town, to proceed to Paris and present an address of
congratulation to the Jacobin Club, then known as the “Société des Amis
de la Constitution.”[342] While at Paris, young Watt seems to have taken
an active part in the fiery agitation of the time. He was on intimate
terms with the Jacobin leaders. Southey says that he was even the means
of preventing a duel between Danton and Robespierre, to the former of whom
he acted as second.[343] Robespierre afterwards took occasion to denounce
both Cooper and Watt as secret emissaries of Pitt, on which young Watt
sprang into the tribune, pushing Robespierre aside, and defended himself
in a strain of vehement eloquence, which completely carried the assembly
with him. From that moment, however, he felt his life to be unsafe, and
he fled from Paris without a passport, never resting until he had passed
the frontier and found refuge in Italy.

    [342] The ‘Discours’ delivered by the MM. Cooper and Watt (1792)
      may be seen at the British Museum.

    [343] ‘Life of Southey,’ vi. 209.

The public part he had taken in French Revolutionary politics could
not fail to direct attention to him on this side of the channel. His
appearance at a public procession, in which he carried the British
colours, to celebrate the delivery of some soldiers released from
the galleys, was vehemently denounced by Mr. Burke in the House of
Commons. The notoriety which he had thus achieved, gave his father great
anxiety; and after young James’s return to England in 1794, he was under
considerable apprehensions for his safety. Several members of the London
political Societies had been apprehended and lodged in the Tower, and Watt
feared lest his son might in some way be compromised by his correspondence
with those societies. Boulton, then in London, informed him of the severe
measures of the Government, and of the intended suspension of the Habeas
Corpus Act; to which Watt replied,--

  “I thank you for your intelligence, which I have communicated
  with due caution to Mr. S. and my son. The former says he has
  had no correspondence whatever with any of these societies, nor
  has frequented any here,--that he may have uttered unguarded or
  foolish words in private companies, but that he knows nothing of,
  nor is he concerned in, any plot or political scheme whatsoever.
  The latter says he never corresponded with any of them at any
  time, though he once executed a commission for one of them, and
  sent his answer to Mr. Tr.,--that for these two years he has had
  no sort of connexion with any of them, and for more than a year
  all his correspondence has been recommending his friends not
  to intermeddle with public affairs. As he proposes to see you
  to-morrow, he will explain himself, and I need not bid you council
  him for the best.”[344]

A few days later, his apprehensions of danger to his son not being
removed, he wrote Boulton again as follows:--

  “I am made very uneasy on account of James by this Bastille
  Act[345] now (I fancy) passed, and which I cannot help thinking
  _un peu trop_. I submit whether it might not be best for you to
  endeavour to make his peace with M[inist]ry by a candid avowal
  of his errors, and of his subsequent change of sentiment and
  renunciation of all correspondence with these traitors. In
  the mean time he had better make the best of his way to here,
  Liverpool, or Scotland; from either of the latter he might find
  his way to America if necessary. In any case let him not go in
  company with any of the persons who have laid themselves open to
  suspicion. I would not, however, have him rashly run out of the
  country. M[inist]ry must know who have been the active abettors
  of the plot, and, if they act wisely, will not molest those who
  have seen their error or have had the good sense to resist all
  temptations of engaging in plots against the peace of the country,
  whatever their opinions about parliamentary representation might
  be.... Query, whether Denmark, Hamburg, or Norway, might not be
  preferable to America, lest we go to war with the latter. If you
  find he is obnoxious, his letters to me should be directed by
  another hand, and not signed.”[346]

    [344] Watt to Boulton, 16th May, 1794. Boulton MSS.

    [345] The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended on the 23rd May, 1794.

    [346] Watt to Boulton, 19th May, 1794. Boulton MSS.

Four days later, Watt’s alarm was not abated by the appearance in
Birmingham of king’s messengers making seizures of persons concerned in
seditious correspondence. “They have taken up,” he wrote, “one Pare, who
kept a reforming club at his house, and one or two others. The soldiers
were ordered under arms to prevent tumult. I hear also that Wilkinson has
been threatened with a mob at Bradley, and has prepared to defend himself
with cannon, pikes, &c., but that matters are now quiet there. In respect
to James, _you_ must advise him, I cannot; but I think he would be better
at home, following his business, than elsewhere.”[347] James eventually
returned to Birmingham, where we find him from this time forward taking
an increasingly active part in the affairs of the concern. He took entire
charge of the manufacture of the letter-copying machines, now become a
considerable branch of the business; and he shortly after entered the
engine firm as a partner, in conjunction with Mr. Boulton’s eldest son,
Matthew Robinson.

    [347] Watt to Boulton, 23rd May, 1794. Young Watt continued
      to sympathise with his political friends; as we find him,
      some months later, writing Matthew R. Boulton from London as
      follows:--“The citizens here are all in very high spirits since
      the late trials; and I had the honour of dining with two of
      the _acquitted felons_ on Sunday last.” Watt, junr., having
      remained for some time in London on business connected with the
      prosecution of Bull and others for infringement of his father’s
      patent, Boulton, junr., kept up an active correspondence with
      him on the affairs of the firm. In one letter (19th February,
      1795), after discussing various matters of detail relating to
      the letter-copying machine and engine business, Boulton entreats
      his friend to send him down a supply of hair-powder. “I have to
      intrust to your care,” he says, “the execution of an important
      commission on the part of the ladies and myself. The report
      of a scarcity of hair-powder has caused great consternation
      amongst the beaux and belles here, and we beg of you to preserve
      for us 1 cwt. of that necessary article.” To which Watt, jun.
      replied,--“Your new order is in train, so that I hope (whatever
      the poor may suffer by the destruction of so scarce an article
      of nourishment) your aristocratical vanity will be gratified,
      with only the additional sacrifice of one guinea per annum to
      your immaculate friend Mr. Pitt, for the purpose of carrying on
      this ‘just and necessary war!’ Under the existing circumstances,
      I am doubtful whether I shall not sacrifice my aristocratical
      appendage [queues being then the appendages of gentlemen],
      as it goes much against my inclination to throw away my money
      at this moment of personal poverty, or to contribute any sum,
      however small, to the support of measures which I reprobate _in
      toto_. On the other hand, however, I do say that, of all the
      taxes which have ever been imposed within my memory, this is
      the most politic and the least likely to be burdensome to the
      poor.”--Boulton MSS.

The infusion of young blood had the effect of imparting new vigour to all
the branches of manufacture at Soho, and at the same time of relieving
the senior partners from a considerable amount of labour and anxiety. The
business was now in a very thriving state; there was abundance of orders
for engines coming in; and the principal difficulty of the firm was in
finding skilled workmen enough to execute them. Thus we find Watt junior
writing to Boulton junior in January, 1795,--“We must have additional men,
rather too many than too few, until we have got the start of our orders,
for without that we shall always feel ourselves embarrassed and clogged.
I shall therefore desire Rennie to renew his applications at Lancaster,
which appear as yet to have been unsuccessful.”

The junior members of the firm were also useful in protecting the engine
patent right, the infringement of which had become general all over the
country. This was a disagreeable part of their business; but, if not
attended to, the patent must be given up as worthless. The steam-engine
was now regarded as an indispensable power in manufacturing operations.
It had become employed in all important branches of industry; and it
was, of course, the interest of the manufacturers to avoid the payment
of dues wherever they could. An instance of this evasion was detected at
the Bowling Ironworks near Bradford, and notice was given of proceedings
against the Company for recovery of dues. On this the Bowling Company
offered to treat, and young Watt went down to Leeds for the purpose of
meeting the representatives of the Bowling Company on the subject. On
the 24th February, 1796, he wrote his friend Matthew Robinson Boulton as

  “Inclosed you have a copy of the treaty of peace, not amity,
  concluded at Leeds, on Saturday last, between me, Minister
  Plenipotentiary to your Highnesses on the one part, and the
  Bowling Pirates in person on the other part. I hope you will
  ratify the terms, as you will see they are founded entirely upon
  the principle of indemnity for the past and security for the
  future. The diameter and length of stroke of their different
  engines, four in number, I have; the times of their commencing
  to work will be sent you by Mr. Paley; and the amounts of the
  premiums may be definitively calculated upon my arrival, which
  will be about the latter end of this week.”

Another engine constructed after Watt’s patent was discovered working
at a mill at Carke, in Cartmel, Lancashire. Mr. Stockdale, son of the
proprietor, tells the following story of its detection. He states that the
first engine employed at the works was one on Newcomen’s construction,
which was used to pump water into the reservoir which supplied the
water-power by which the mill was driven. It was then determined to apply
the steam-power direct to the machinery, and a new engine was ordered from
Manchester, without communicating with the patentees. The mill was in full
work when a stranger called, representing that he belonged to the concern
of Boulton and Watt, and requesting to inspect the engine. The request was
complied with, and Mr. Stockdale afterwards invited him to stay to dinner;
but it was the dearest dinner he ever gave, as only a few weeks later a
claim for 1800_l._ was made by Boulton and Watt for dues upon the engine,
which was, however, eventually compromised by the payment of 400_l._

The most unscrupulous pirates, however, were the Cornishmen who,
emboldened by the long quiescence of Boulton and Watt, and knowing that
the patent had only five or six more years to run, believed that they
might set the patentees at open defiance, which they proceeded to do.
Notwithstanding the agreements entered into and ratified on both sides,
they refused point blank to pay further dues; and Boulton and Watt were
thus at last driven to have recourse to the powers of the law. Had they
remained passive, it might have been construed into a tacit admission
that the patent right had from the first been indefensible, and that the
sums which they had up to that time levied for the use of their engine
had been wrongfully paid to them. But neither had ceased to have perfect
faith in the validity of their patent, and both determined, even at this
late stage, to defend it. “The rascals,” wrote Watt to Boulton, “seem to
have been going on as if the patent were their own.... We have tried every
lenient means with them in vain; and since the fear of God has no effect
upon them, we must try what the fear of the devil can do.”[348] Legal
proceedings were begun accordingly. The two actions on which the issues
were tried were those of Boulton and Watt _v._ Bull, and Boulton and Watt
_v._ Hornblower and Maberley; and they were fought on both sides with
great determination. The proceedings extended over several years, being
carried from court to court; but the result was decisive in both cases in
favour of Boulton and Watt. It was not until January, 1799, that the final
decision of the judges was given;[349] almost on the very eve of expiry
of the patent, which had not then a full year to run. It was not, however,
with a view to the future that these costly, anxious, and protracted legal
proceedings had been carried on, but mainly for the recovery of dues under
existing agreements, and for dues on engines erected in various quarters
in infringement of the patent. Most of the Cornish adventurers had paid
nothing for years. Thus Poldice had paid nothing since October, 1793, and
was in arrear 2330_l._ Wheal Gons had paid nothing since May, 1793, and
was in arrear 4290_l._ The Wheal Treasure adventurers, and many others,
had set Boulton and Watt at open defiance, and paid nothing at all.

    [348] Watt to Boulton, 20th March, 1796.

    [349] “We have WON THE CAUSE hollow,” Watt wrote from London. “All
      the Judges have given their opinions carefully in our favour,
      and have passed judgment. Some of them made better arguments
      in our favour than our own counsel, for Rous’s speech was too
      long and too divergent. I most sincerely give you joy.”--Watt
      to Boulton, 25th January, 1799.

On the issue of the proceedings against Bull, Boulton and Watt called
upon the Mining Companies to “cash up,” and arrears were shortly
collected, though with considerable difficulty, to the amount of about
30,000_l._ Young Boulton went into Cornwall for the purpose of arranging
the settlements, and managed the business with great ability. “I am now
to congratulate you,” Watt wrote to his partner from Glasgow, whither
he had gone on a visit, “on the success of Mr. R. Boulton’s very able
transactions in Cornwall; and I hope that at last we may be freed from the
anxiety of the issue of law which has so long attended us, and enjoy in
peace the fruits of our labours. When you write to Mr. B. I beg you will
present my best wishes and best respects to him, expressing my warmest
approbation of his exertions.” On another occasion, while the cause was
in progress before the courts of law, Watt wrote,--“In the whole affair,
nothing was so grateful to me as the zeal of our friends and the activity
of our young men, which was unremitting.”

The senior members of the firm had for some time been gradually
withdrawing from the active management of the concern. We find Watt
writing to Dr. Black in 1798,--“In regard to the engine business, I
now take little part in it, but it goes on successfully.” Four years
later he wrote,--“Our engine trade thrives; the profits per cent. are,
however, very, very moderate; it is by the great capital and expensive
establishment of engineers, &c., that we keep it up; without our tools and
men very little could be done, as we have many competitors, some of whom
are men of abilities.” But the business was now safe in the hands of the
young and active partners, who continued to carry it on for many years,
with even greater success than their fathers had done. They reaped the
harvest of which the others had sown the seed. The patent right expired in
1800; but the business of the firm, nevertheless, became larger and more
remunerative than it had ever been before. The superior plant which they
had accumulated, their large and increasing capital, the skilled workmen
whom they had trained, and the first-class character of the work which
they turned out, gave the establishment of Boulton and Watt a prestige
which they long continued to maintain.

[Illustration: WILLIAM MURDOCK.]

The young partners had also the great advantage of the skilled heads
of the different departments, who had been trained by long and valuable
experience. For many years William Murdock was the Mentor of the firm.
Though tempting offers of partnerships were made to him, he remained loyal
to Boulton and Watt to the last. They treated him generously, and he was
satisfied to spend his life in their service. He had gradually worked
his way to the foremost place in their establishment, besides achieving
reputation as an inventor and a man of practical science. His model
locomotive of 1784 was the first machine of the kind made in this country;
and it is to be regretted that he did not pursue the subject. But Murdock
was a very modest, unambitious man, content to keep in the background, and
not possessed by that “pushing” quality which helps so many on to fortune.
We have already stated that he invented the sun and planet motion, which
was eventually adopted by Watt in preference to his own method of securing
rotary motion. His daily familiarity with pumping-engines in Cornwall also
led him to suggest and introduce many improvements in their details, which
Boulton and Watt were always ready to adopt. He was a great favourite in
Cornwall, and not less esteemed for his estimable and manly qualities than
for his mechanical skill. When the adventurers heard of his intention to
return to Soho, in 1798, they offered him 1000_l._ a year to continue at
the mines, but he could not be tempted to remain.

Returned to Soho, Murdock was invested with the general supervision
and management of the mechanical department, in which he proved of
essential value. He was regarded as “the right hand” of Boulton and
Watt. He proceeded to introduce great improvements in the manufacture of
the engines, contriving numerous machines for casting, boring, turning,
and fitting the various parts together with greater precision. His plan
of boring cylinders by means of an endless screw (turned by the moving
power) working into a toothed wheel, whose axis carried the cutter head,
instead of by spur gear, was found very useful in practice, and produced
a much more smooth and steady motion of the machine. As early as 1785, he
invented the first oscillating engine,[350] which still continues in use
in various improved forms. His invention of the double D slide valve, in
place of the four poppet valves in Watt’s double engine,[351] was also
found of great value; saving steam, and ensuring greater simplicity in
the construction and working of the engine. In his oscillating engine the
motion is given to the slide valve by the oscillation of the cylinder, and
engines of small power still continue to be worked in this manner. Another
of his improvements in engine construction was his method of casting the
steam cases for cylinders in one piece, instead of in separate segments
bolted together, according to the previous practice. He also invented a
rotary engine of an ingenious construction; but though he had one erected
to drive the machines in his private workshop, where it continued employed
for about thirty years, it never came into general use.[352] Murdock had a
good deal of the temperament of Watt: he was always scheming improvements,
and was most assiduous in carrying them out. In such cases he would
not trust to subordinates, but executed his designs himself wherever
practicable; and he sometimes carried his labours so far into the night
that the rising sun found him at his anvil or his turning lathe.

    [350] The model was carefully preserved and exhibited with pride
      by his son, in whose house at Handsworth we saw it in 1857.

    [351] Watt said to Robert Hart, “When Mr. Murdock introduced
      the slide valve, I was very much against it, as I did not
      think it so good as the poppet valve, but I gave in from its
      simplicity.”--Hart, ‘Reminiscences,’ &c.

    [352] These several inventions were embodied by him in a patent
      taken out in 1799.

Murdock is also entitled to the merit of inventing lighting by gas. The
inflammable qualities of the air obtained by distillation of coal had
long been known,[353] but Murdock was the first to apply the knowledge
to practical uses. The subject engaged much of his attention in the year
1792, when he resided at Redruth. As his days were fully occupied in
attending to his employers’ engine business, it was only in the evenings,
after the day’s work was over, that he could pursue the subject. It is
not improbable that he was led to undertake the investigation by Mr.
Boulton’s chemical enthusiasm, which communicated itself to all with whom
he came in contact. It will be remembered that the latter occupied much
of his leisure at Cosgarne in analysing earths, minerals, and vegetable
substances, trying to find out the gases they contained; and Murdock
was his zealous assistant on these occasions. In the paper which he
communicated to the Royal Society on the subject of lighting by coal-gas
in 1808, for which they awarded him their large Rumford Gold Medal, he

    [353] Burning springs, though by no means common in Europe, were
      not unknown. They were kept burning by natural and spontaneous
      supplies of carburetted hydrogen gas issuing from fissures in
      the earth overlying beds of asphalte or coal. The inflammable
      character of fire-damp and the explosions which it occasioned
      in coal mines were also familiar to most persons living in
      the coal-mining districts. In 1658 Mr. Thomas Shirley first
      communicated to the Royal Society the result of some experiments
      which he had made on the inflammable gas issuing from a well
      near Wigan in Lancashire. Some time before 1691 the Rev. Dr.
      Clayton, Dean of Kildare, made some experiments on what he
      called the spirit of coal: he distilled some coal in a retort,
      and, confining the gas produced thereby in a bladder, he amused
      his friends by burning it as it issued from a pin-hole. In 1721
      Dr. Stephen Hales found it was practicable to produce elastic
      inflammable air from coal and other substances, and that nearly
      one-third of Newcastle coal was drawn off in vapour, gas, &c.,
      by the action of heat. In 1733 Sir James Lowther communicated
      to the Royal Society a paper on the subject of the fire-damp
      issuing from the shaft of a coal mine near Whitehaven, which
      had been accidentally set fire to and continued to burn for
      two years. Dr. Watson, Bishop of Landaff, and Dr. Priestley
      of Birmingham, examined the properties of coal-gas, and made
      experiments on its inflammable qualities, but pursued the
      subject no further. Lord Dundonald also had been accustomed, for
      the amusement of his friends, to set fire to the gas disengaged
      by the burning of coal in the process of coke-making. The same
      phenomena must have been observed on a large scale wherever
      coke was made. Each chamber in which coal was distilled was in
      point of fact a gas retort. Oil and gas were the products of the
      distillation; but strange to say, although the oil was collected
      and used, no heed was taken of the gas. Nor was it until Mr.
      Murdock’s attention was called to the subject that lighting by
      gas was proved to be practicable.

  “It is now nearly sixteen years since (1792), in the course
  of experiments I was making at Redruth, in Cornwall, upon the
  quantities and qualities of the gas produced by distillation from
  different mineral and vegetable substances, that I was induced
  by some observations I had previously made upon the burning of
  coal, to try the combustible property of the gases produced from
  it, as well as from peat, wood, and other inflammable substances;
  and being struck with the great quantities of gas which they
  afforded, as well as the brilliancy of the light, and the facility
  of its production, I instituted several experiments with a view of
  ascertaining the cost at which it might be obtained, compared with
  that of equal quantities of light yielded by oils and tallow. My
  apparatus consisted of an iron retort, with tinned iron and copper
  tubes, through which the gas was conducted to a considerable
  distance; and there, as well as at intermediate points, was
  burnt through apertures of various forms and dimensions. The
  experiments were made upon coal of different qualities, which I
  procured from different parts of the kingdom for the purpose of
  ascertaining which would give the most economical results. The
  gas was also washed with water, and other means were employed to
  purify it.”[354]

    [354] ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1808, pp. 124–132.

Murdock put his discovery to the best practical test by lighting up
his house and offices at Redruth with gas; and he had a gas lantern
constructed, with a jet attached to the bottom of the lantern and
a bladder of gas underneath, with which he lighted himself home at
night across the moors when returning from his work to his house at
Redruth.[355] On the occasion of a visit which he made to Soho in 1794,
he took the opportunity of mentioning to Mr. Watt the experiments he
had made, and their results; expressing his conviction of the superior
economy, safety, and illuminating qualities of coal-gas, compared with
oils and tallow. He then suggested that a patent should be taken out for
the application, and at various subsequent periods he urged the subject
upon the attention of his principals. But they were at the time so
harassed by litigation in connexion with their own steam-engine patent,
that they were unwilling to enter upon any new enterprise which might
possibly lead them into fresh embroilments; and nothing was done to
protect the invention.

    [355] Many years later (in 1818), when Murdock was at Manchester
      for the purpose of starting one of Boulton and Watt’s engines,
      he was invited, with Mr. William Fairbairn, to dine at Medlock
      Bank, then at some distance from the lighted part of the town.
      “It was a dark winter’s night,” writes Mr. Fairbairn, our
      informant, “and how to reach the house over such bad roads was
      a question not easily solved. Mr. Murdock, however, fruitful
      in resources, went to the Gas Works, (then established in
      Manchester), where he filled a bladder which he had with him,
      and placing it under his arm like a bagpipe, he discharged
      through the stem of an old tobacco-pipe a stream of gas which
      enabled us to walk in safety to Medlock Bank.”

On Murdock’s return to Soho in 1798, he proceeded with his investigations,
and contrived an apparatus for making, purifying, and storing the
gas on a large scale; and several of the offices in the building were
regularly lighted by its means. On the general illumination which took
place in celebration of the Peace of Amiens in 1802, the front of Soho
Manufactory was brilliantly illuminated with gas, to the astonishment and
admiration of the public. The manageableness, the safety, the economy,
and the brilliancy of the new light being thus proved, Boulton and Watt
in 1803 authorised Murdock to proceed with the general fitting up of the
manufactory with pipes and burners, and, from that date, it continued
to be regularly lit up with coal-gas. Several large firms followed
their example; amongst others Phillips and Lee, Burley, and Kennedy, at
Manchester, and Gott and Sons, at Leeds; and the manufacture of gas-making
apparatus became one of the regular branches of business at Soho. Several
years later, in 1805, when Watt went down to Glasgow, he found gas in
pretty general use.

  “The new lights,” he wrote to Boulton, “are much in vogue here;
  many have attempted them, and some have succeeded tolerably in
  lighting their shops with them. I also hear that a cotton-mill in
  this neighbourhood is lighted up with gas. A long account of the
  new lights was published in the newspapers some time ago, in which
  they had the candour to ascribe the invention to Mr. Murdock. From
  what I have heard respecting these attempts, I think there is full
  room for the Soho improvements,[356] though, when once they see
  one properly executed, it will have numerous imitations.”

    [356] Watt here alluded to the new machinery and plant erected
      at Soho under Murdock’s directions, at a cost of about 5000_l._
      for the purpose of manufacturing gas apparatus.

Several years after the introduction of the new light, a German, named
Wintzer or Winsor, brought out (in 1809) a scheme similar to one projected
in Paris by Le Bon, for lighting the streets by gas. He proposed a
Joint Stock Company, with a capital of 300,000_l._, and held forth to
subscribers the prospect of a profit of ten thousand per cent.![357]
He applied to Parliament for a Bill, against which Murdock petitioned,
and was examined before the Committee. Though they were staggered by
the crudities of Winsor, they had some difficulty even in accepting the
more modest averments of Murdock as to the uses of coal-gas for lighting
purposes. “Do you mean to tell us,” asked one member, “that it will be
possible to have a light _without a wick_?” “Yes, I do, indeed,” answered
Murdock. “Ah, my friend,” said the legislator, “you are trying to prove
too much.” It was as surprising and inconceivable to the honourable
member as George Stephenson’s subsequent evidence before a Parliamentary
Committee to the effect that a carriage might be drawn upon a railway at
the rate of twelve miles an hour _without a horse_.

    [357] The invention of lighting by gas has by some writers been
      erroneously attributed to Winsor. It will be observed, from
      the statement in the text, that coal-gas had been in regular
      use long before the appearance of his scheme, which was one
      of the most crude and inflated ever brought before the public.
      “The Patriotic Imperial and National Light and Heat Company,”
      proposed amongst other things to aid and assist Government with
      funds in times of emergency, to increase the Sinking-fund for
      reducing the National Debt, to reward meritorious discoverers,
      &c. &c. Some idea of the character of the project may be
      formed from Mr. [Lord] Brougham’s speech in opening the
      case against the Bill:--“‘The neat annual profits,’ says Mr.
      Winsor, ‘agreeable to the _official experiments_’ (that is, the
      experiments of Mr. Accum....) ‘amount to 229,353,627_l._’ ...
      now Mr. Winsor says, that he will allow there may be an error
      here, for the sake of arguing with those who still have their
      doubts; and he will admit that the sum should be taken at only
      one half, or 114,845,294_l._; and then giving up, to meet all
      possible objections, nine-tenths of that sum, still there will
      remain, to be paid to the subscribers of this Company, a yearly
      profit of 570_l._ for every 5_l._ of deposit! So that upon
      paying 5_l._ every subscriber is to receive 570_l._ a year for
      ever, and this to the last farthing; it may increase but less it
      can never be; the clear profit is always to be above 10,000_l._
      per cent. upon the capital! This is pretty well, sir, one would
      think. There is here estimate and statement enough to captivate
      the public; but this is not all; for Mr. Winsor has taken out
      a patent (of which, indeed, he has, according to his custom,
      enrolled no specification, but, on the contrary, has enrolled
      a surrender) for the invention of several things, and, among
      others, one for rendering this gas respirable. It is not enough
      that this gas (which everybody knows to be not respirable, but
      as poisonous to the lungs as fixed air) should be capable of
      giving light; but he thinks it also necessary to prove that it
      may easily be rendered respirable; in short, that there is no
      way in which it may not be used, and nothing which may not be
      made of it.... In another pamphlet.... Mr. Winsor endeavours to
      prove that this gas is the vital principle; that in which life
      itself consists. If I had taken the trouble to go through his
      publications, which I certainly have not done, it is hard to
      say what I might not have discovered; but I should think the
      difficulty would rather be, to find one quality which the gas
      is not stated to possess.”

No wonder that strange notions were entertained about gas in those early
days. It seemed so incredible a contrivance, to make air that could be
sent along pipes for miles from the place at which it was made to the
place at which it issued as jets of fire, that it ran entirely counter to
all preconceived notions on the subject of illumination. Even Sir Humphry
Davy ridiculed the idea of lighting towns with gas, and asked one of
the projectors if it were intended to take the dome of St. Paul’s for a
gasometer; and Sir Walter Scott made many clever jokes about the absurdity
of lighting London with smoke, though he shortly after adopted the said
“smoke” for lighting up his own house at Abbotsford. It was popularly
supposed that the gas was carried along the pipes on fire, and that
hence the pipes must be intensely hot. Thus, when the House of Commons
was first lighted up with gas, the architect insisted on the pipes being
placed several inches from the wall for fear of fire, and members might be
seen applying their gloved hands to them to ascertain their temperature,
expressing the greatest surprise on their being found as cool as the
adjoining walls.[358]

    [358] The first application of the “Gas-light and Coke Company”
      to Parliament in 1809 for an Act proved unsuccessful, but the
      “London and Westminster Chartered Gas-light and Coke Company”
      succeeded in the following year. The Company, however, did
      not succeed commercially, and was on the point of dissolution,
      when Mr. Clegg, a pupil of Murdock, bred at Soho, undertook the
      management and introduced new and improved apparatus. Mr. Clegg
      first lighted with gas Mr. Ackerman’s shop in the Strand in
      1810, and it was regarded as a great novelty. One lady of rank
      was so much delighted with the brilliancy of the gas-lamp fixed
      on the shop counter, that she asked to be allowed to carry it
      home in her carriage, and offered any sum for a similar one.
      Mr. Winsor by his persistent advocacy of gas-lighting, did
      much to bring it into further notice; but it was Mr. Clegg’s
      practical ability that mainly led to its general adoption.
      When Westminster Bridge was first lit up with gas in 1812, the
      lamplighters were so disgusted with it that they struck work,
      and Mr. Clegg himself had to act as lamplighter.

The advantages of the new light, however, soon became generally
recognised; and gas companies were established in most of the large towns.
Had Murdock patented the invention, it must have proved exceedingly
remunerative to him; but he derived no advantage from the extended use
of the new system of lighting except the honour of having initiated
it,--though of this more than one attempt was made to deprive him. As
he himself modestly said, in his paper read before the Royal Society,
“I believe I may, without presuming too much, claim both the first idea
of applying, and the first actual application of this gas to economical

Murdock’s attention was, however, diverted from prosecuting his discovery
of the uses of gas to a profitable issue by his daily business, which
was of a very engrossing character. He continued, nevertheless, an almost
incessant contriver, improver, and inventor; following, like his master
Watt, the strong bent of his inclinations. One of his most cherished
schemes was the employment of compressed air as a motive power. He
contrived to work a little engine of 12-inch cylinder and 18-inch stroke,
which drove the lathe in the pattern-shop, by means of the compressed air
of the blast-engine employed in blowing the cupolas at the Soho Foundry;
and this arrangement continued in use for a period of about thirty-five
years. He also constructed a lift worked by compressed air, which raised
and lowered the castings from the Boring-mill to the level of the Foundry
and the Canal Bank.[359] He used the same kind of power to ring the bells
in his house at Sycamore Hill; and the contrivance was afterwards adopted
by Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford.[360] He experimented on the power
of high-pressure steam in impelling shot, and contrived a steam-engine
in 1803, with which he made many trials at Soho, in anticipation of
Perkins’s apparatus. He was the inventor of the well-known cast-iron
cement so extensively used in engine and machine work; and the manner in
which he was led to it affords a striking illustration of his quickness
of observation. Finding that some iron-borings and sal-ammoniac had got
accidentally mixed together in his tool-chest and rusted his saw-blade
nearly through, he took note of the circumstance, mixed the articles
in various proportions, and at last arrived at the famous cement, which
eventually became an article of extensive manufacture at the Soho works,
completely superseding the cement invented by Watt. In 1810 he took out a
patent for boring stone pipes for water, and cutting columns out of solid
blocks by one operation. In 1815 he invented an apparatus for heating the
water for the Baths at Leamington by the circulation of water through
pipes from a boiler,--a method since extensively adopted for heating
buildings and garden-houses. While occupied in erecting the apparatus at
Leamington, a heavy cast-iron plate fell upon his leg and severely crushed
it, laying him up for many months.

    [359] “It consisted,” says Mr. Buckle, “of a piston working in a
      cylinder 10 feet diameter in water, with a lift of 12 feet, and
      raised by forcing in air from a small blowing cylinder 12 inches
      diameter, 18 inches stroke, which was worked by the gearing in
      the boring-mill.” Paper read by the late William Buckle at the
      Institution of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham, 23rd October,

    [360] Lockhart’s ‘Life of Scott,’ one vol. edition, p. 500.

His ingenuity was constantly at work, even upon matters which lay entirely
outside his special calling. Mr. Fairbairn informs us that he contrived a
variety of curious machines for consolidating peat moss, finely ground and
pulverised, under immense pressure, and moulding it into beautiful medals,
armlets, and necklaces, which took the most brilliant polish, and had the
appearance of the finest jet. Observing that fish-skins might be used as
an economical substitute for isinglass, he went up to London to explain
to the brewers the best method of preparing and using them.[361] While in
town on this errand, it occurred to him that there was an enormous waste
of power in the feet of men and animals treading the streets of London,
which might be economised and made productive; and he conceived the idea
of using the streets as a grand treadmill, under which the waste power
was to be stored up by mechanical methods, and turned to account! Another
of his ingenious schemes--though then thought equally impracticable with
that last mentioned--was his proposed method of transmitting letters and
packages through a tube exhausted by an air-pump. This idea seems to have
led to the projection of the Atmospheric Railway, the success of which, so
far as it went, was again due to the practical ability of Murdock’s pupil
Samuel Clegg. Though the atmospheric railway was eventually abandoned,
it is remarkable that Murdock’s original idea has since been revived, and
practised with success, by the London Pneumatic Despatch Company.

    [361] Mr. Buckle, in the memoir above cited, says,--“So completely
      was he absorbed at all times with the subject he had in hand,
      that he was quite regardless of everything else. When in London
      explaining to the brewers the nature of his substitute for
      isinglass, he occupied handsome apartments. He, however, little
      respected the splendour of his drawing-room, and, fancying
      himself in his laboratory at Soho, he proceeded with his
      experiments quite careless and unconscious of the mischief he
      was doing. One morning his landlady calling in to receive his
      orders, was horrified to see her magnificent paper-hangings
      covered with wet fish-skins hung up to dry; and he was caught
      in the act of pinning up a cod’s skin to undergo the same
      process. Whether the lady fainted or not is not on record, but
      the immediate ejectment of the gentleman and his fish was the

Such is a brief sketch of the life and works of this estimable and
ingenious mechanic, for so many years the mainstay of the Soho works.
Mr. Fairbairn, who first made his friendship at Manchester in 1816,
speaks of him as one of the most distinguished veterans in mechanical
engineering then living,--“tall and well-proportioned in figure, with a
most intelligent and benevolent expression of countenance.” He was a man
of robust constitution, and though he sorely taxed it, he lived to an old
age, surviving the elder Boulton and Watt by many years.[362]

    [362] The young partners regarded him with a degree of
      affection and veneration, which often shows itself in their
      correspondence. Towards the later years of his life Mr.
      Murdock’s faculties gradually decayed, and he wholly retired
      from the business of Soho, dying at his house at Sycamore Hill,
      Handsworth, on the 15th Nov., 1839, in his 85th year.


    [363] The first piece of iron-toothed gearing ever cast is
      placed on the lawn in front of Murdock’s villa. The teeth are
      of somewhat unequal form, and the casting is rough--perhaps
      it has been exposed to rough usage. It bears the following
      inscription:--“This Pinton was cast at Carron Ironworks for John
      Murdock, of Bellow Mill, Ayrshire, A.D. 1760, being the first
      tooth-gearing ever used in millwork in Great Britain.”



It will be remembered that one of the early speculations of Roger Bacon
related to the employment of engines of navigation without oarsmen, “so
that the greatest river and sea ships, with only one man to steer them,
may sail swifter than if they were fully manned,”--that one of the uses
to which Papin proposed to apply the steam-engine was to “propel ships
against the wind and tide,” in illustration of which he constructed his
model steamboat,--and that, shortly after Newcomen’s engine had become
generally introduced as a pumping power, Jonathan Hulls took out a patent
with the object of applying it to tow ships into and out of harbours.
Hulls was followed, after a long interval, by Jouffroy in France and by
Fitch in America, but none of their experiments proved successful; and
it was not until Watt invented the condensing engine that it was found
practicable to employ steam as a regular propelling power in navigation.

It was natural that the extraordinary success of Watt’s invention should
direct attention anew to the subject. The engine, in the powerful,
compact, economical, and manageable form, into which he had brought
it, was found able to effect rotary motion in the various processes of
manufacture; and, in a maritime country like England, the thought that
would naturally occur to many minds would be this: If the steam-engine
can drive mill-wheels, why may it not in like manner be employed to drive
the wheels of carriages by land and the paddle-wheels of vessels by sea?
The subject was, indeed, often brought under the notice of both Boulton
and Watt; but the anxiety, annoyance and expense to which they had been
subjected in defending their original patent, deterred them from venturing
on this new field of enterprise. Watt never made his proposed locomotive
engine for running on common roads; and the model constructed by Murdock
at Redruth in 1784, remained a model still.

The subject was, however, shortly after taken up by William Symington, at
Wanlockhead, in Scotland, where his father was employed as engineman in
superintending the working of one of Boulton and Watt’s pumping-engines.
The sight of this engine, and his father’s employment upon it, had
probably the effect of first directing his attention to steam-power and
its extended uses; and having heard of Murdock’s ingenious design from
Boulton and Watt’s men, who were constantly visiting and inspecting
the pumping-engine,[364] it occurred to him to try whether he could not
himself construct the model of a steam-carriage for use on common roads.
He succeeded in making his model, and when it was finished, Mr. Meason,
the manager of the Wanlockhead Lead Mines, was so much pleased with it
that he asked the young man to accompany him to Edinburgh, to show it
to the leading men of science in that city. Mr. Meason allowed it to
be exhibited at his own house, Symington being in attendance to give
explanations. Some of the Edinburgh professors, who came to see the model,
were so much pleased with the youthful inventor (then only about twenty
years of age), and the indications of mechanical genius which his machine
displayed, that they strongly recommended Mr. Meason to enter him as a
student at the University, which he readily assented to, and Symington
accordingly matriculated at Edinburgh College in 1786, and, amongst
other lectures, attended those of Dr. Black on Chemistry in the following

    [364] The Symingtons, father and son, began at an early period
      to design improvements on Watt’s pumping-engine, and took out a
      patent for a fire-engine on a new principle as early as the year
      1785. Watt heard of its progress from time to time; but he had
      no great opinion of the Symingtons, and treated their alleged
      invention with indifference. On the 28th September, 1787, he
      wrote Boulton,--“Isaac Perrins [a fitter] is returned from
      Scotland. He says Symington has invented a new engine, which
      is to work under 12½ lbs. on the inch and has got a patent for
      it, which Mr. M[eason] has paid for. By his account it seems
      to be on the same principle as the Trumpeters. As soon as they
      can rely fully on the new engine, the old one is to be pulled
      down, and Symington is to put up one of his in the house, and,
      on that answering, ours is to be stopped!”

The Scotch roads were in too bad a condition at the time to admit of
their being run over by a locomotive, and Symington eventually abandoned
his proposed scheme. But he had also an idea that the steam-engine might
be economically applied to the working of boats on canals, or ships at
sea; and with that object he invented an engine specially adapted for
the purpose. This clearly appears from his correspondence with Thomas
Gilbert, M.P., brother to the Duke of Bridgewater’s land steward. Mr.
Gilbert had inspected the model of the steam-carriage while on a visit to
Edinburgh, and at the same time had some conversation with Symington as to
the employment of the steam-engine in hauling canal-boats, the result of
which was that Symington promised to write him more fully on both topics.
He proceeded to do so in a letter dated Wanlockhead, 24th September, 1786;
in which, after describing the dimensions, power, mode of working, and the
probable price (about 70_l._) of a full-sized locomotive, he proceeded--

  “But an engine of the same power and apparatus for working boats
  on canals, will only coast about fifty pounds, and will only
  weight 110 st. Each strock of the engine will have a force equall
  to 160 st. weight when applied, which undoubtedly will be able
  to drag a great weight upon water, when we run the proportion
  between it and what a man can do in a boat with common oars,
  whose exertion does not exceed more than 7 stones; but of this
  you will be a better judge than me. The engine we propose for
  working the land-carriage is Mr. Watt’s, with some very material
  alterations; and before we can use it we must make an agreement
  with him, which we intend to propose immediately. But the engine
  we propose to work boats or ships with is an engine intirely
  of our own invention, and more powerful and better adapted for
  the purpose than Mr. Watt’s engine. This engine of our own we
  have presently at worke here is a large moddle, by which we have
  properly ascertained its power, and found it exceed Mr. Watt’s
  engine nearly two pounds upon each square inch on the piston,
  without any greater consumpt of coals. Another advantage attending
  our engine is its being little more complicated than the old
  engine that works with an atmospheric pressure. We are to use our
  endeavours immediately for a patent for this engine as well as our
  carriage; your assistance, when we get application made, will be
  of great service to us, and thankfully received by, Sir, &c. &c.,

About the same time that Symington was exhibiting his model carriage in
Edinburgh, Mr. Miller of Dalswinton was trying experiments at Leith in
propelling boats by paddle-wheels worked by men at a capstan. He had a
triple vessel built, with wheels placed inside, on turning which the
vessel was impelled forward. It will be observed that this was but a
repetition of the old experiment of Blasco Garay at Barcelona, and of
Savery on the Thames. The experiments were on the whole successful, but
the power employed in propelling the vessel was felt to be defective, and
the turning of the capstan was very hard work, at which men could not be
brought to work continuously for any long period.


    [365] This interesting letter, so important as regards the
      early history of the invention of the steamboat, appeared for
      the first time in the supplementary volume to the ‘Official
      Description and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition
      of 1851,’ to which it was contributed by Mr. W. C. Aitkin of

Mr. Miller, being curious as to all mechanical novelties, went, amongst
others, to see Symington’s model locomotive; and in the course of
conversation with the inventor informed him of his own project, describing
the difficulty he had experienced in getting his paddles turned for
lack of power. The immediate remark of Symington was, “Why don’t you
use the steam-engine?” He proceeded to show how easily the engine
might be connected with the wheels of the boat, using the model of the
steam-carriage before him to explain his meaning. Mr. Miller appeared to
have been struck by the suggestion, and in the pamphlet which he shortly
after published describing his new vessel, he referred to the probable
employment of steam-power for the purpose of driving the paddles. “I
have reason to believe,” he said, “that the power of the steam-engine may
be applied to work the wheels, so as to give them a quicker motion, and
consequently to increase that of the ship. In the course of this summer,
I intend to make the experiment; and the result, if favourable, shall be
communicated to the public.”[366]

    [366] ‘The Elevation, Section, Plans, and Views, of a Triple
      Vessel, and of Wheels, with Explanations of the Figures in the
      Engraving, and a short Account of the Properties and Advantages
      of the Invention.’ By Patrick Miller, Esq., of Dalswinton,
      Edinburgh, 1787.

Mr. Miller subsequently contrived and constructed a double vessel, 60
feet in length, worked by a paddle-wheel placed amidships between the
two halves of the ship, with a clear waterway in the middle in which
the paddle was worked, propelling the vessel. An experiment with this
new ship was tried in June, 1787, which was considered successful. “The
vessel being put in motion by the water-wheel, wrought by five men at
the capstern, was steered so as to keep the wind right ahead, and her
rate of going was found by the log to be three and a half miles in the
hour.”[367] A sailing-match was arranged by Mr. Miller, in which he was
to run his vessel from Inchcolm (a small island in the Frith of Forth) to
Leith, against a Custom-house wherry which was reckoned a fast sailer.
In this race the double vessel beat by a few minutes. A young man named
James Taylor, who officiated in Mr. Miller’s family as tutor to his two
younger sons, was on board the vessel, and took his turn in working the
wheels, which he found to be “very severe exercise.” In consequence of
this trial and its results, Taylor became persuaded that unless a more
commanding power than that of men could be applied, the invention of the
paddle-ship would prove of little use; and on turning the matter over in
his mind, he suggested to Mr. Miller the use of the steam-engine. This,
however, was no new idea, as, from what we have already stated, it is
clear that it had already occurred to Symington, who had even contrived an
engine for the express purpose of propelling ships. As Taylor was intimate
with Symington, and a fellow-student with him at Edinburgh College in the
session of 1786–7, it is probable that Taylor obtained from him his first
idea of the application of the steam-engine to Mr. Miller’s paddle-boat.

    [367] Mr. Miller’s statement to the Royal Society, 20th December,

The result of Symington’s and Taylor’s suggestion was, that Mr. Miller
resolved to make a further experiment; and he ordered a double boat to be
built and fitted with a steam-engine for trial on Dalswinton Loch, near
his country-seat in Dumfriesshire, in the course of the following summer.
Symington prepared the plans of the engine, the castings of which were
executed by George Watt, an Edinburgh founder; and when the parts were
ready, Symington and Taylor went together to Wanlockhead, in the summer
of 1788, to have the engine erected and placed in the boat in readiness
for the proposed trial.

In the mean time, other projects of a similar kind were afoot; and Boulton
and Watt continued to be solicited from different quarters on the subject
of engines for sailing ships. To these they continued to turn a deaf
ear. They were willing to execute engines to order, but they declined to
undertake them as speculations. Thus, in the spring of 1788, we find Sir
John Dalrymple, one of the barons of the Court of Exchequer at Edinburgh,
addressing Boulton on the subject of the proposed application of the
steam-engine to the propulsion of ships, and the reply of the latter
clearly shows what were then the views of the Soho firm on the subject:--

  “SIR,--I have just received the honour of your letter of the 23rd
  inst., by which I observe you are intent upon applying the power
  of steam to the navigation of ships, boats, &c.

  “It is one of the applications of our engine which Mr. Watt and
  I have often talked of, but we were deterred from the prosecution
  of it more from political than mechanical difficulties, as well as
  from some prudential reasons; besides which, we thought we could
  be more useful to the public and to ourselves by confining our
  attention to such subjects as were within the limits of our own
  powers and our own country. We still continue of that opinion, and
  are persuaded that it would be folly in us (who have our hands and
  heads full of solid and important business) to engage in any set
  of new experiments, or, like Charles XII., go in quest of conquest
  in foreign kingdoms, and leave our own to be conquered.

  “If you or your friends want any of our steam-engines for any
  purpose you may think proper to apply them to, we shall be very
  glad to serve you upon the usual terms; although I must confess
  that I should be sorry to see them applied to _one_ purpose which
  perhaps may be of as much importance to this country some time or
  other as Admiral Drake’s fire-ship was on a former emergency.

  “I beg the favour of you not to consider me or Mr. Watt as
  schemers or projectors, but as men who are following their regular
  established trade and manufactures of great extent,--amongst
  others that of steam-engines,--and engineers, in which capacity
  we shall always be found attentive to your commands.”[368]

    [368] Boulton to Sir John Dalrymple, 26th March, 1788. The “one
      purpose” alluded to by Boulton is supposed to have been the
      Torpedo, then a favourite scheme with French inventors for
      blowing up English ships.

Symington had many difficulties to encounter in erecting his engine at
Leadhills. Though it was of very small size, being of only about two
horses power, with a four-inch cylinder, it required as much skill to
construct as a much larger engine would have done. The arrangement of
the power was new, as well as the application; and, as in the case of
every new machine, where unforeseen defects were brought to light, new
expedients had to be contrived for the purpose of overcoming them. Mr.
Miller became impatient for its completion, and repeatedly wrote from
Edinburgh urging despatch, fearing lest some other projector should get
the start of him in applying the steam-engine to the driving of ships.
Taylor, who managed the corresponding part of the enterprise, replied,
“You need be under very little apprehension as to any person getting
before you in this. It is easy in conversation, but very different in
execution. However, as such a circumstance would be equally unpleasant
to us, to prevent it you may depend upon the greatest expedition being

    [369] Taylor to Miller, 20th August, 1788. ‘Supplementary Vol. to
      Official Description and Illustrated Catalogue of the Exhibition
      of 1851,’ p. 1473.


Taylor being further urged by his employer, again wrote from Leadhills
on the 12th September, 1788,--“Mr. Symington and I are as busy here as we
possibly can be. We work from six o’clock in the morning till dark in the
evening, without losing a moment; also, to forward us the more, we have
called in the aid of a watchmaker here, who works along with us. We are
now in great forwardness, and will not be long of finishing. I could not
ascertain to a day when it will happen, but believe we shall have it at
Dalswinton some time before the end of the month.”[370]

    [370] Taylor to Miller, 20th August, 1788. ‘Supplementary Vol. to
      Official Description and Illustrated Catalogue of the Exhibition
      of 1851,’ p. 1473.

The engine was shortly after finished, mounted in a strong oak frame,
and taken to Dalswinton. It was then placed on the deck of Mr. Miller’s
double pleasure-boat, twenty-four feet long and seven broad, which had
been prepared for its reception.


The engine was placed on one side of the boat, the boiler on the other
side to balance it, and the paddle-wheels in the middle; the rotary
motion being obtained from the engine by chains, ratchet-wheels, and
catches. The first experiment was tried on the 14th of October, 1788, and
proved successful, the engine being propelled at the rate of five miles
an hour.[371] Among the persons present on the occasion, besides Miller,
Symington, and Taylor, were Alexander Nasmyth, the landscape painter, and
Robert Burns, the poet, then a tenant of Mr. Miller on the neighbouring
farm of Ellisland. After a few further experiments the engine was taken
out of the boat and carried into Mr. Miller’s house, where it remained
for many years, and was eventually deposited in the Museum of Patents at
Kensington, where it is now to be seen.

    [371] The following contemporary account of the trial appeared
      in the ‘Scots Magazine’ for November, 1788:--“On October 14th,
      a boat was put in motion by a steam-engine upon Mr. Miller of
      Dalswinton’s piece of water at that place. That gentleman’s
      improvements in naval affairs are well known to the public.
      For some time past his attention has been turned to the
      application of the steam-engine to the purposes of navigation.
      He has now accomplished, and evidently shown to the world, the
      practicability of this, by executing it upon a small scale.
      A vessel, 25 feet long and 7 broad, was, on the above date,
      driven with two wheels by a small engine. It answered Mr.
      Miller’s expectations fully, and afforded great pleasure to the
      spectators. The success of this experiment is no small accession
      to the public. Its utility in canals, and all inland navigation,
      points it out to be of the greatest advantage, not only to this
      island, but to many other nations of the world. The engine used
      is Mr. Symington’s new patent engine.”

The experiments made with this first steamboat were so satisfactory that
Mr. Miller resolved to try one upon a larger scale. By this time Messrs.
Allen and Stewart, of Leith, had built for him another double vessel,
ninety feet in length; and he wrote to Symington, requesting his estimate
of the cost of fitting it with a suitable steam-engine. Symington’s reply
was to the effect that a proper-sized engine for such a vessel would, in
his opinion, be about 250_l._, including the float-wheels. The necessary
order was given, and Symington proceeded to the Carron Ironworks for the
purpose of constructing it. The vessel arrived at Carron on the 24th June,
and by the month of November following the engine was finished and put
on board ready for trial.[372] The result was not so satisfactory as in
the case of the experiment on Dalswinton Loch. The paddle-wheels were too
weak; first one float and then another broke off; and the trial had to be
suspended until the defects were remedied. The next trial was, however,
more satisfactory. The vessel reached a speed of seven miles an hour;
and this was repeated with the same result. There must, however, have
been some defect in the engine performances; for, in a letter written by
Miller to Taylor, who was present throughout, he expressed the opinion
that Symington’s engine was altogether unsuitable for giving motion to a
vessel.[373] He accordingly ordered the engine to be taken out and placed
in the Carron Works, and the vessel itself to be laid up at Bruce Haven.

    [372] From a memorandum found amongst Mr. Boulton’s papers,
      we learn that the following were the details of Symington’s
      engine:--“Engine hath two cylinders of 18 inches diameter each
      and 2 feet stroke. The rods of each piston are connected to a
      circular barrel of cast iron by means of chains, so that whilst
      one piston moves down the other ascends, and so gives the barrel
      a reciprocating motion. Upon the axis of the barrel is an arm
      or lever which works the plug and working gear. Each of the
      cylinders hath 2 pistons, one at top and the other at bottom;
      the 2 bottom pistons have their rods moving in stuffing-boxes
      and are connected together by a beam. The steam is admitted
      into the cylinder at its side, between the 2 pistons, and moves
      the one up and the other down; but the motion of the upper is
      greater than the under. When the upper piston is got to the top
      and the under one to the bottom, the steam valve is shut and the
      exhaustion one opened; by which the steam is admitted into the
      bottom of the cylinder, and is in its way met by a jet of cold
      water, which condenses it, and then it is squeezed out by the
      under piston, which in fact makes the bottom of the cylinder
      an air-pump. Whilst this condensation is going forward in the
      one cylinder, the steam is operating in the other, and _vice

    [373] “I am now satisfied,” he said, “that Mr. Symington’s
      steam-engine is the most improper of all steam-engines for
      giving motion to a vessel, and that he does not know how to
      calculate frictions or mechanical powers. By means of a new
      well-constructed valve-wheel, and the pinion being doubled in
      diameter, I doubt not that the velocity of the vessel’s motion
      will be increased; but, do as you will, a great deal of power
      of the engine must be lost in friction. I remember well that
      when the small engine was wrought in the boat at Dalswinton, I
      had formed the same idea, and that I told you so; but not having
      studied the subject, I gave up my own common sense. This is now
      past remedy. As the engine cannot be of use to me now, I hope,
      with the aid of Mr. Tibbets and Mr. Stainton, you will get it
      sold before you leave Carron.”--Miller to Taylor, 7th December,

Thus matters remained until the spring of the following year, when Mr.
Miller decided on applying to Boulton and Watt for an engine of a proper
construction, offering at the same time to associate them with him in his
enterprise. The negotiation was opened by Robert, afterwards Lord Cullen,
who addressed Watt on the subject; but his reply was not encouraging. Like
his partner, Watt was averse to new speculations; and he had had too much
anxiety and worry in connexion with his original enterprise to enter upon
any new one. It will also be observed that he entertained doubts as to
the eventual success of ocean navigation by steam. The following was his

  “DEAR SIR,--We have heard of Mr. Miller’s ingenious experiments
  on double ships from Sir John Dalrymple, and also some vague
  accounts of the experiments with the steam-engine, from which we
  could gather nothing conclusive, except that the vessel did move
  with a considerable velocity.

  “From what we heard of Mr. Symington’s engines, we were disposed
  to consider them as attempts to evade our exclusive privilege; but
  as we thought them so defective in mechanical contrivance as not
  to be likely to do us immediate hurt, we thought it best to leave
  them to be judged by Dame Nature first before we brought them to
  any earthly court.

  “We are much obliged to Mr. Miller for his favourable opinion of
  us and of our engines, which we hope experience would more and
  more justify. We are also fully sensible of his kind intentions
  in offering to associate us with him in his scheme; but the time
  of life we have both arrived at, and the multiplicity of business
  we are at present engaged in, must plead our excuse for entering
  into any new concern whatever as partners; but as engineers
  and engine-makers we are ready to serve him to the best of our
  abilities, at our customary prices, for rotative engines, and to
  assist in anything we can do to bring the scheme to perfection.

  “We conceive that there may be considerable difficulty in making
  a steam-engine to work regularly in the open sea, on account of
  the undulating motion of the vessel affecting the _vis inertiæ_
  of the matter; however, this we should endeavour to obviate as
  far as we could.

  “It may not be improper to mention that Earl Stanhope has lately
  taken a patent for moving a vessel by steam, but not by wheels.
  His Lordship has also applied to us for engines; but we believe
  we are not likely to agree with him, as he lays too much stress
  upon his own ingenuity.

  “We cannot conclude without observing, that were we disposed to
  enter into any new concern whatever, there is no person we should
  prefer to Mr. Miller as an associate, being fully apprised of his
  worth and honour, and admirers of the ingenuity and industry with
  which he has pursued this scheme.

  “Permit me now, Sir, to return you my thanks for your obliging
  attention to me, and for the trouble you have taken in this
  affair, and to ask the favour of your presenting Boulton and
  Watt’s respectful compliments to Mr. Miller.--I remain, dear Sir,
  &c. &c.,
                                                   “JAMES WATT.”[374]

    [374] J. Watt to R. Cullen, 24th April, 1790, ‘Supplementary
      Volume to Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the
      Exhibition of 1851,’ p. 1475.

Mr. Miller proceeded no further with his experiments, on which he had
already expended a large sum of money. He seems to have lost faith in the
applicability of the steam-engine to the propulsion of ships, and reverted
to his original idea, as we find him taking out a patent in 1796 for a
new kind of flat-bottomed ship, which he proposed to impel during calms
by means of wheels worked by capstans; but he makes no mention whatever
of the use of the steam-engine.

Symington was greatly disappointed with the result of his experiments.
Being without the means of carrying the steamboat further, he feared that
all his past labours would prove in vain, and that some more fortunate
speculator would carry off the prize that seemed almost within his grasp.
The subject was not, however, allowed to sleep. Fitch and Evans were
pursuing the invention in America; Rumsey, another American, came over to
England in 1788, with a scheme for propelling boats by steam; and Fourness
and Earl Stanhope were making experiments in the same direction; but none
of them had yet succeeded in constructing a practicable working steamboat.
Thus ten more years passed, during which other inventors came forward,
took out patents, made their trials, failed, and disappeared.

In the year 1801 Symington had another chance. Lord Dundas, Governor of
the Forth and Clyde Canal Company, had been revolving in his mind whether
some more expeditious and economical method than horse-power might not be
contrived for hauling the boats along the canal; and, being aware of the
experiments made by Miller and Symington ten years before, he determined
to give Symington’s engine another trial. A boat was accordingly built for
the purpose of the experiment, and named the ‘Charlotte Dundas,’ after his
Lordship’s daughter. For this vessel Symington contrived a steam-engine
of a greatly improved character. It was a direct-acting engine, the steam
acting on each side of the piston, after the method invented by Watt,
whose patent had now expired; the rotary motion of the paddle-wheels being
secured by means of a connecting-rod and crank, instead of by chains and
ratchet-wheels, as in the first two boats.


The first trial of the vessel was perfectly satisfactory. After making a
trip to Glasgow, she was employed in towing vessels along the canal. She
was also occasionally sent down the Frith to bring up ships detained by
contrary winds to the canal entrance at Grangemouth.[375]

    [375] One day in March, 1802, on the occasion of a strong west
      wind blowing, when the canal-boats could with difficulty be
      moved to windward, the steamer took in tow two laden sloops, the
      ‘Active’ and ‘Euphemia,’ of seventy tons each, from Lock 20 to
      Port Dundas, Glasgow, a distance of 19½ miles, in six hours.

Fortune at length seemed to smile on poor Symington, and his spirits were
proportionately elated at the result of these important experiments. He
had, in fact, achieved a decided success in the ‘Charlotte Dundas,’--in
which he combined together, for the first time, those improvements which
constitute the present system of Steam Navigation. Indeed Mr. Woodcroft,
a competent judge, says that “the vessel might, from the simplicity of
its machinery, have been at work at this day with such ordinary repairs
as are now occasionally required to all steamboats.”[376]

    [376] ‘A sketch of the Origin and Progress of Steam Navigation.’
      By Bennet Woodcroft. London, 1848.

Lord Dundas was so well satisfied with the performances of the vessel
that he proposed to introduce the inventor to the Duke of Bridgewater,
the great canal proprietor, who had expressed to him his wish to employ
some method of hauling his boats more effective than horse-power. His
Lordship accordingly directed Symington to have a model of his steamboat
constructed for the purpose of showing it to the Duke. Symington went
up to London himself to explain its mechanical arrangements, and the
Duke was so much pleased with it that he ordered eight boats of the same
construction to be made as speedily as possible for use upon his canal.
Symington returned to Scotland to proceed with the execution of this
important order.

But in the moment of his apparent triumph fate again proved hostile to the
inventor. Though Lord Dundas was fully satisfied with the performances of
the ‘Charlotte Dundas,’ and hailed the use of steam as the beginning of
a new era in navigation, the proprietors of the canal became seriously
alarmed lest the banks should be washed away by the waves which the
steamboat raised in its wake, and they came to the resolution of
prohibiting all further experiments. To add to Symington’s vexation, the
very same day on which this adverse decision of the canal managers reached
him, he received intelligence of the death of the Duke of Bridgewater,
and an order to suspend the erection of the eight steamboats until fresh
instructions had been given. By this time Lord Dundas had expended about
7000_l._ on his experiments, and was not disposed to proceed any further
with them. The ‘Charlotte Dundas,’ the first successful steamboat, was
accordingly laid up at Bainsford, in a creek of the canal; and the attempt
to introduce steam navigation on canals was from that time suspended.[377]

    [377] Symington continued to struggle for many years under the
      burden of debt which he had incurred by his experiments; and
      though a sum of 100_l._ was granted him from the Privy Purse
      in 1824, and 50_l._ a year or two afterwards, he remained in
      a state of poverty during the rest of his life. He died on
      the 22nd March, 1831, and was buried in the churchyard of St.
      Botolph, Aldgate, London.

Symington’s experiments, though they proved most unfortunate as respected
himself, nevertheless led to the adoption of the system of navigation by
steam both in America and Scotland. Among the many visitors who inspected
the ‘Charlotte Dundas’ were Fulton the American artist, and Andrew Bell
the engineer, of Glasgow. Fulton was on board the first vessel in the
month of July, 1801, when she made a run of eight miles on the Forth
and Clyde Canal in an hour and twenty minutes; on which occasion he
narrowly inquired into the action of the engine and paddle-wheels, and
made careful sketches of the vessel and her machinery.[378] Andrew Bell
also made frequent visits to the ‘Charlotte Dundas,’ as well as to the
pattern shop where the models of the machinery were kept; and there is
little doubt that, like Fulton, he obtained his ideas of steam navigation
principally from what Symington had accomplished. Fulton and Bell were
well acquainted with each other,[379] and kept up a correspondence on the
subject of steamboats. Bell, according to his own account, supplied Fulton
with information and drawings of steamboat machinery; and it was by his
recommendation that Fulton ordered the engine for his first successful
steamboat from Boulton and Watt.

    [378] The following deposition was made on oath by Robert Weir of
      Kincardine, before Robert Dundas J. P. for the county of Perth,
      at Blair Castle, on the 23rd October, 1824:--“That, in the
      year 1801, he remembers of Mr. Symington erecting a boat, and
      fitting a steam-engine into it, and dragging two vessels along
      the Forth and Clyde Canal by means of the said steamboat. That
      the deponent was employed as engine-fireman on board of the said
      boat. Deposes that the following persons, now living, were also
      on board, viz., Alexander Hart and John Allen, ship-builders,
      Grangemouth, and John Esplin and William Gow, shipmasters there.
      That some time after the first experiment, while the boat was
      lying upon the canal at Lock 16, it was visited by a stranger,
      who requested to see the boat worked. That the said William
      Symington desired the deponent to light the furnace, which was
      done, and the stranger was carried about four miles along the
      canal, and brought back. That this stranger made inquiries both
      as to the mode of constructing and of working the boat, and
      took notes of the information given him by the said William
      Symington. That the deponent heard the stranger say his name
      was Fulton, and that he was a native of the United States of
      America. That the deponent remembers Mr. Symington remarking
      that the progress of the boat was much impeded by the narrowness
      of the canal, to which Mr. Fulton answered that the objection
      would not apply to the large rivers of North America, where he
      thought the boat might be used to great advantage.”--From copies
      of affidavits in the ‘Biography of William Symington.’ By J.
      and W. R. Rankin, Engineers, Falkirk, 1862.

    [379] In one of his letters, Bell says--“Fulton came at different
      times to the country and stopped with me for some time.”--‘Life
      of Henry Bell,’ p. 74.

With the information obtained at Grangemouth, Fulton proceeded to Paris,
where we shortly find him in communication with Mr. Livingstone, the
United States’ envoy, who, like Fulton, took much interest in the subject
of steam navigation. They had a model steamboat built for trial on the
Seine; but when on the point of making the first experiment, the weight
of the machinery broke the boat in two, and the whole went down together.
Fulton’s greatest difficulty, as was to be expected, consisted in finding
a suitable engine to propel his proposed boat, and he wrote to his friends
in England on the subject. In March, 1802, we find him addressing Dr.
Cartwright, who had invented an improvement in the steam-engine, which
he thought would render it more suitable for driving vessels, requesting
to be informed of the cost of one of six horse power, with particulars
of its size and weight. Fulton communicated to his correspondent that,
besides his proposed steamboat, he was experimenting on his ‘Nautilus’
or diving-boat for navigating under water; the object of this invention
being to blow up the English ships of war which were then blockading the
French ports. The experiments with the ‘Nautilus’ under water were said
to have proved tolerably successful, though it had not yet succeeded in
blowing up any of the English ships.

Not being able to obtain any satisfactory information from Dr. Cartwright,
Fulton addressed a letter to James Watt, jun., of Soho, requesting to
be informed of the price of a light and compact engine for his proposed
vessel. “The object of my investigation,” he said, “is to find whether
it is possible to apply the engine to working boats up our long rivers
in America. The persons who have made such attempts have commenced by
what they call improving Watt’s engine, but without having an idea of the
physics which lie hid in it from common observers; but such improvements
have appeared to me like the improvements of the preceptor of Alcibiades,
who corrected Homer for the use of his scholars. Their ill success, and
their never having found a good mode of taking a purchase in the water,
are the reasons why they have all failed. Having, during the course of my
experiments on submersive navigation, found an excellent mode of taking
a purchase on the water, I wish to apply the engine to the movement.
The only thing wanting is to arrange the engine as light and compact as

    [380] Cited in Muirhead’s ‘Life of James Watt,’ 2nd ed. p. 426.

The information asked for was duly communicated to Fulton, and a few
months later he sent Boulton and Watt the drawings of parts of an
engine which he requested them to make for him. By this time the rumour
had gone abroad of the destructive powers of the ‘Nautilus,’ and Lord
Stanhope publicly called attention to the subject in the House of Lords,
representing the dangerous character of the invention. On Fulton’s order
reaching Soho, Boulton suspected that it might really be intended for the
‘Nautilus,’ and he at once communicated with Government on the subject.
To Lord Hawkesbury he wrote,--

  “I presume your Lordship is not unacquainted with the name of
  Fulton. I mean Fulton the engineer and pretended inventor of an
  infernal machine for destroying the British Navy. He is the same
  person whom Lord Stanhope alluded to in some of his speeches in
  the House of Peers.

  “I never had any transaction or acquaintance with him. However,
  he has written to my house (Boulton and Watt) from Paris, and
  has transmitted drawings of sundry parts of a steam-engine. The
  remainder, he says, is to be executed under his own directions,
  and though he orders them to be shipped for America, it is not
  impossible but they may be transhipped before they reach there.

  “The drawings and letter were delivered to my house in
  London-street by a Mr. Barlow; and as he refers to Sir Francis
  Baring for payment, I directed my agent (Mr. John Woodward) to
  call upon Sir Francis, and in consequence thereof he wrote to my
  house a letter, of which I enclose a correct copy as well as of
  Mr. Fulton’s.

  “Whatever doubts we may have of his project, we have none
  respecting the propriety of acquainting your Lordship with every
  particular as to this matter that has come to our knowledge.”[381]

Boulton concluded by requesting instructions how to act; but all necessity
for further caution was shortly after removed by Fulton coming over to
England and imparting his secret to the British Government. An old Danish
brig was placed at his disposal in Walmer Roads, and after two days’
effort, during which he was assisted by Sir Home Popham, he eventually
succeeded in blowing up the vessel; but he accomplished his purpose with
so much difficulty, that from that time no further fears were entertained
of the much dreaded ‘Nautilus.’

    [381] Boulton to Lord Hawkesbury, 22nd August, 1803. Boulton MSS.

In the following year the steam-engine ordered by Fulton for his proposed
boat was proceeded with at Soho. It was of about nineteen horse power.
The cylinder was 24 inches in diameter, and the stroke four feet. The
dimensions were as nearly as possible the same as those of Symington’s
‘Charlotte Dundas’ engine; and Mr. Woodcroft pertinently remarks that
“such similarity in the dimensions cannot easily be imagined to have been
accidental.” The engine, when finished, was sent to America early in
1805. She was there fitted on board the vessel which had been prepared
for her reception; and the first voyage of Fulton and Livingstone’s
‘Clermont’ was made in August, 1807, when a speed of nearly four miles
an hour was attained. This was the first vessel that ran regularly for
commercial purposes and for the benefit of her owners; and though Fulton
neither invented the ship, nor the engine by which she was driven,
nor the combination of the two, he was entitled to every merit for the
perseverance and ability with which he carried his important enterprise
to a successful issue.

A few years later Henry Bell, in like manner, introduced steam navigation
on the Clyde. He had at an early period pressed the subject on the
consideration of the Government, but failed to induce them to take up
the scheme.[382] He then resolved himself to start a steamboat, as the
best and most practical method of exhibiting its powers; and the ‘Comet,’
of thirty tons burthen, was built to his order by Messrs. John Wood
and Company, of Port Glasgow. The vessel began to ply regularly between
Glasgow and Greenock in August, 1812;[383] and before long Clyde steamers
were known all over the world.

    [382] It is stated in the ‘Life of Henry Bell,’ that he applied
      to Mr. Watt in the year 1801, for his advice as to a suitable
      engine for a steamboat; but Watt gave him no encouragement
      to proceed with his design. “How many noblemen, gentlemen,
      and engineers,” he wrote to Bell, “have puzzled their brains,
      and spent their thousands of pounds, and none of these,
      nor yourself, have been able to bring the power of steam in
      navigation to a successful issue.”--‘Life of Bell.’ By E.
      Morris, Glasgow, 1844, p. 30.

    [383] The starting of the ‘Comet’ naturally excited great interest
      along the Clyde. In the evenings, thousands of spectators lined
      the banks as far as Govan to see her pass up from Greenock. The
      masters of the old sailing craft, however, regarded the ‘Comet’
      with apprehension and dismay. The old Highland gabert men were
      especially hostile, denouncing the new vessel as being impelled
      by the “teevil’s wun” (devil’s wind). The story is told of
      the steamer one day coming up with a fly boat tacking against
      the tide, when the crew began to jeer the skipper of the fly,
      calling upon him to come along with his lazy craft. “Get oot o’
      my sight,” he cried, in reply, “I’m just gaun as it pleases the
      breath o’ the Almichty, and I’ll ne’er fash my thumb how fast
      ye gang wi’ your blasted deevil’s reek.”


[By R. P. Leitch.]]

It will thus be observed how very gradual has been the invention of the
steamboat. It has been made step by step, by many men living in many
ages. First, we have Blasco Garay making experiments with paddle-wheels
in the harbour of Barcelona three hundred years ago, the revival probably
of some old and half-forgotten method of propelling ships; then the
repetition of the experiment by Prince Rupert and Savery in the Thames
more than a hundred and fifty years later; next Savery’s invention of
his steam-engine, followed by Papin’s idea of combining the engine
with the paddles, and his construction of a model to illustrate its
practicability. Later, we have Jonathan Hulls’s patent for his steamboat,
in which the engine was worked by atmospheric pressure, followed by
numerous experiments with a like object, in England, France, and America.
The invention of the condensing engine of Watt, and its application
to rotary motions, was the next great step. Miller’s revival of the
experiments with paddle-wheels led to the application by Symington of
Papin’s idea of combining the steam-engine with the paddles, which he at
length successfully worked out in the ‘Charlotte Dundas.’ And finally the
invention was applied to practical purposes by Fulton and Livingstone in
America, and by Bell in Scotland.

And thus became established, in the eloquent words of George Canning, “the
new and mighty power, new at least in the application of its might, which
walks the waters like a giant rejoicing in its course, stemming alike the
tempest and the tide, accelerating intercourse, shortening distances,
creating, as it were, unexpected neighbourhoods, and new combinations
of social and commercial relations, and giving to the fickleness of
winds and the faithlessness of waves the certainty and steadiness of
a highway upon the land.” But it is a noteworthy fact, that it was not
until the invention of James Watt was applied to the purposes of steam
navigation that its practicability was established and its success
secured. Until then, all the experiments which had been made were regarded
as comparatively fruitless, though they were leading step by step to
the great result; and to this day the engines constructed after Watt’s
principle continue to be the great motive power alike of river and ocean


[By Percival Skelton.]]



On the dissolution of the original partnership between Boulton and Watt at
the expiry of the patent in 1800, Boulton was seventy-two years old, and
Watt sixty-four. The great work of their life had been done, and the time
was approaching when they must needs resign into other hands the great
branches of industry which they had created. Watt, though the younger of
the two, was the first to withdraw from an active share in the concerns
of Soho. He could scarcely be said to taste the happiness of life until
he had cast business altogether behind him.

It was far different with Boulton, to whom active occupation had become
a second nature. For several years, indeed, his constitution had been
showing signs of giving way, and nature was repeating her warnings,
at shorter recurring intervals, that it was time to retire. But in the
case of men such as Boulton, with whom business has become a habit and
necessity, as well as a pleasure and recreation, to retire is often
to die. He himself was accustomed to say that he must either “rub or
rust;” and as the latter was contrary to his nature, he rubbed on to the
end, continuing to take an active interest in the working of the great
manufactory which it had been the ambition of his life to build up.

The department of business that most interested him in his later years was
the coinage. His chief pleasure consisted in seeing his new and beautiful
pieces following each other in quick succession from the Soho Mint. Nor
did he cease occupying himself with new inventions; for we find him as
late as 1797 taking out a patent for raising water by impulse, somewhat
after the manner of Montgolier’s Hydraulic Ram, to which he added many
ingenious improvements. His house at Soho continued to be the resort of
distinguished visitors; and his splendid hospitality never failed. But,
as years advanced and his infirmities increased, we find him occasionally
expressing a desire for quiet. He would then retire to Cheltenham for the
benefit of the waters, requesting his young partners to keep him advised
from time to time of the proceedings at Soho. Thus we find young Watt
writing him during his absence on one occasion,--“Everything is going on
well here: the Mint works six presses at present with ease; but, unless
you have secured a supply of copper, I fear they will soon work out the
present stock.” In the same letter his young friend advised him that he
had duly despatched the chemical apparatus; for even at Cheltenham Boulton
could not be idle, but undertook a careful analysis of all the waters
of the place, the results of which he entered, in minute detail, in his

An alarming incident occurred at Soho towards the end of 1800, which is
worthy of passing notice, as illustrative of Boultons vigour and courage
even at this advanced period of his life. A large gang of Birmingham
housebreakers, knowing the treasures accumulated in the silver-plate
house, determined to break into it and carry off the silver, as well as
the large sum of money usually accumulated in the counting-house for the
purpose of paying the wages of the workmen, upwards of 600 in number, on
Christmas Eve. They had provided false keys for most of the doors, and
bribed the watchman, who communicated the plot to Boulton, to admit them
within the gates. He took his steps accordingly, arming a number of men,
and stationing them in different parts of the building.

The robbers made the attempt on three several occasions. On the first
night they tried their keys on the counting-house door, but failed to
open it, on which they shut their dark lantern and retired. Boulton sent
an account of the proceedings each night to his daughter in London. On
the first attempt being made, he wrote,--“The best news I can send you is
that we are all alive; but I have lost my voice and found a troublesome
cough by the agreeable employment of thief-watching.” Two nights after,
the burglars came again, with altered keys, but still they could not open
the counting-house door. The third night they determined to waive art, and
break in by force. They were allowed to break in and seize their booty,
and were making off with 150 guineas and a load of silver, when Boulton
gave the word to seize them. A quantity of tow soaked with turpentine was
instantly set fire to, numerous lights were turned on, and the robbers
found themselves surrounded on all sides by armed men. Four of them were
taken after a desperate struggle; but the fifth, though severely wounded,
contrived to escape over the tops of the houses in Brook-row.

Writing to his friend Dumergue, in London, of the exploit, Boulton
said,--“You know I seldom do things by halves; so I have sent the four
desperate wolves to Stafford Gaol, and I believe the fifth is much
wounded. If I had made my attack with a less powerful army than I did,
we should probably have had a greater list of killed and wounded.”[384]
It was in allusion to this exploit that Sir Walter Scott said of Boulton
to Allan Cunningham, “I like Boulton; he is a brave man, and who can
dislike the brave?”[385] The incident, when communicated to Scott
during one of his visits to Soho, is said to have suggested the scene
in ‘Guy Mannering,’ in which the attack is made on Dirk Hatterick in the
smuggler’s cave.

    [384] Boulton to Dumergue, 25th December, 1800.

    [385] Lockhart’s ‘Life of Scott.’ 8vo. ed. p. 457. One of Scott’s
      visits to Soho was made in company with his wife in the spring
      of 1803. Boulton was so pleased with the visit, that he urged
      Scott, or at least his wife, to repeat it, which produced the
      following letter, dated London, 13th May, 1803:--

        “My dear Sir,--He was a wise man who said ‘Trust not thy
        wife with a man of fair tongue.’ Now as I have very little
        wisdom of my own, I am content to gather all I can get
        at second hand, and therefore, upon the faith of the sage
        whom I have quoted, I should be guilty of great imprudence
        were I to permit Charlotte to wait upon you on her return,
        or even to answer your kind letter to Mr. Dumergue. That
        task I therefore take upon myself, and you must receive my
        thanks along with hers, for your very kind and flattering
        invitation to Soho. But independent of my just suspicion
        of a beau who writes such flattering love-letters to my
        wife, our time here (owing to the sitting of our Courts
        of Justice, which I must necessarily attend), lays us
        under an indispensable necessity of returning to Scotland
        as speedily as possible, and by the nearest road. We
        can therefore only express our joint and most sincere
        regret that we cannot upon this occasion have the honour
        and satisfaction of visiting Soho and its hospitable
        inhabitants. Mrs. Nicolson, Mr. and Miss Dumergue join
        Charlotte and me in the most sincere good wishes to Miss
        Boulton, to you, and to all your friends; and I suspect
        so foolish a letter will make you believe you have escaped
        a very idle visitor in,

                                                         “Dear Sir,
                                       “Your very faithful servant,
                                                    “WALTER SCOTT.”

With Watt, occupation in business was not the necessity that it was to
Boulton; and he was only too glad to get rid of it and engage in those
quiet pursuits in which he found most pleasure. In the year 1790, he
removed from the house he had so long occupied on Harper’s Hill, to a
new and comfortable house which he had built for himself at Heathfield
in the parish of Handsworth, where he continued to live until the close
of his life. The land surrounding the place was, until then, common, and
he continued to purchase the lots as they were offered for sale, until,
by the year 1794, he had enclosed about forty acres. He took pleasure in
laying out the grounds, planting many of the trees with his own hands;
and in course of time, as the trees reached maturity, the formerly barren
heath became converted into a retreat of great rural beauty.

Annexed to the house, in the back yard, he built a forge, and upstairs,
in his “Garret,” he fitted up a workshop, in which he continued to pursue
his mechanical studies and experiments for many years. While Watt was
settling himself for the remainder of his life in the house at Heathfield,
Boulton was erecting his large new Mint at Soho, which was completed and
ready for use in 1791.

When the lawsuits, which had given Watt so much anxiety, were
satisfactorily disposed of, an immense load was removed from his mind;
and he indulged in the anticipation of at last enjoying the fruits of
his labour in peace. Being of frugal habits, he had already begun to save
money, and indeed accumulated as much as he desired. But when the heavy
arrears of Cornish dues were collected, about the period of expiry of the
patent, a considerable sum of money necessarily fell to Watt’s share; and
then he began to occupy himself in the pleasant recreation of looking out
for an investment of it in land. He was, however, hard to please, and made
many journeys before he succeeded in buying his estate.

  “I have yet met with nothing to my mind,” he wrote from Somerton;
  “Lord Oxford has some very considerable estates to sell near
  Abergavenny, but the roads to them are execrable, and it seemed
  that it would be a sort of banishment to live at them, though the
  parts I saw are in themselves pleasant. I am to-day informed of
  one with a house near Dorchester, which I have sent to inquire
  about, though I have my doubts that it will prove like the rest.
  I propose, if nothing hinders, to be at Taunton to-morrow night,
  and shall then visit the Wedgwoods, who at present live at Upcot,
  near that place. Afterwards, I propose making a tour through the
  eastern part of Devonshire, and returning by Dorsetshire to Bath;
  but my resolves may be altered by the attractions of various
  magnets, so that I cannot tell you where to write to me till I
  get some fixed residence.”[386]

A fortnight later he was at Exmouth, but still undecided.

  “In respect to estates,” he writes,--“I have seen nothing
  that pleases me. Most of them, as you know by experience, are
  surrounded with bad roads, beggarly villages, or some other
  nuisance, and one need not purchase plagues. On the whole,
  something nearer home seems more suitable to me than anything in
  these western counties, which, though they have more luxuriant
  vegetation, and perhaps a milder climate, are not exempt from
  cold, as I experience here colder weather than we had last autumn
  in Scotland. But the greatest drawback is the absence of such
  society as one is used to, and their abominably hilly roads, as
  they never flinch, but go straight up any hill which comes in
  their way, and Nature has bestowed plenty upon them.”[387]

Eventually Watt made several purchases of land at Doldowlod, on the hanks
of the Wye, between Rhayader and Newbridge, in Radnorshire. There was a
pleasant farmhouse on the property, in which he occasionally spent some
pleasant months in summer time amidst beautiful scenery; but he had by
this time grown too old to root himself kindly in a new place; and his
affections speedily drew him back again to the neighbourhood of Soho, and
to his comfortable home at Heathfield.

    [386] Watt to M. Robinson Boulton, 9th September, 1799.

    [387] Watt to M. Robinson Boulton, 26th September, 1799.

During the short peace of Amiens in the following year, he made the
longest journey in his life. Accompanied by Mrs. Watt, he travelled
through Belgium, up the banks of the Rhine to Frankfort, and home by
Strasburg and Paris. While absent, Boulton wrote him many pleasant
letters, telling him of what was going on at Soho. The brave old man was
still at the helm there, and wrote in as enthusiastic terms as ever of the
coins and medals he was striking at his Mint. Though strong in mind, he
was, however, growing feebler in body, and suffered much from attacks of
his old disease. “It is necessary for me,” he wrote, “to pass a great part
of my time in or upon the bed; nevertheless, I go down to the manufactory
or the Mint once or twice a day, without injuring myself as heretofore,
but not without some fatigue. However, as I am now taking bark twice a
day, I find a daily increase of strength, and flatter myself with the
pleasure of taking a journey to Paris in April or May next.”[388]

    [388] Boulton to Watt, 10th October, 1802. One of Boulton’s
      objects in making his contemplated journey to Paris, was to
      undertake the erection of coining machinery for the French
      Government, who were about to recoin the whole of their gold,
      silver, and copper money. With their imperfect machinery,
      he calculated that it would take them nearly twenty years
      to accomplish this; whereas with his new machinery he could
      undertake to turn out a thousand million of pieces in three
      years. He communicated to Watt, that he had been making
      experiments as to the maximum speed of his coining machines,
      worked by the steam-engine, and found that he could regularly
      strike fifty-three of his copper pieces or fifty-six English
      crown-pieces per minute, while he could with one press in
      collars also regularly strike India copper pieces of half the
      diameter at the rate of 106 to 112 per minute, or from 6360 to
      6720 pieces per hour; but when pieces of half an inch diameter
      were wanted he had recourse to his new small press, with which
      he could strike from 150 to 200 pieces per minute! “My presses,”
      said he, “are far more exact and more durable, and my means of
      working them are now infinitely beyond anything they (the French
      coiners) have ever thought of, and my mint is now in far better
      order than ever.”

On Watt’s arrival in London, a letter of hearty welcome from Boulton met
him; but it conveyed, at the same time, the sad intelligence of the death
of Mrs. Keir, a lady beloved by all who knew her, and a frequent inmate at
Soho and Heathfield. One by one the members of the circle were departing,
leaving wide gaps, which new friends could never fill up. The pleasant
associations which are the charm of old friendships, were becoming mingled
with sadness and regret. The grave was closing over one after another of
the Soho group; and the survivors were beginning to live for the most part
upon the memories of the past. But it is one of the penalties of old age
to suffer a continuous succession of such bereavements; and that state
would be intolerable but for the comparative deadening of the feelings
which mercifully accompanies the advance of years. “We cannot help feeling
with deep regret,” wrote Watt, “the circle of our old friends gradually
diminishing, while our ability to increase it by new ones is equally
diminished; but perhaps it is a wise dispensation of Providence so to
diminish our enjoyments in this world that when our turn comes we may
leave it without regret.”[389]

    [389] Watt to Boulton, 23rd November, 1802.

One of the deaths most lamented by Watt was that of Dr. Black of
Edinburgh, which occurred in 1799. Black had watched to the last with
tender interest the advancing reputation and prosperity of his early
protégé. They had kept up a continuous and confidential correspondence
on subjects of mutual interest for a period of about thirty years.
Watt, though reserved to others, never feared unbosoming himself to his
old friend, telling him of the new schemes he had on foot, and freely
imparting to him his hopes and fears, his failures and successes. When
Watt visited Scotland he rarely failed to take Edinburgh on his way, for
the purpose of spending a few days with Black and Robison. The latter
went express to London, for the purpose of giving evidence in the suit
of Watt against the Hornblowers, and his testimony proved of essential
service. “Our friend Robison,” Watt wrote to Black, “exerted himself
much; and, considering his situation, did wonders.” When Robison returned
to Edinburgh, his Natural Philosophy class received him with three
cheers. He proceeded to give them a short account of the trial, which he
characterised as “not more the cause of Watt _versus_ Hornblower, than of
science against ignorance.” “When I had finished,” said he, “I got another
plaudit, that Mrs. Siddons would have relished.”[390]

    [390] Robison to Watt, 3rd February, 1797.

No one was more gratified at the issue of the trial than Dr. Black,
who, when Robison told him of it, was moved even to tears. “It’s very
foolish,” he said, “but I can’t help it when I hear of anything good to
Jamie Watt.” The Doctor had long been in declining health, but was still
able to work. He was busy writing another large volume, and had engaged
the engraver to come to him for orders on the day after that on which he
died. His departure was singularly peaceful. His servant had delivered to
him a basin of milk, which was to serve for his dinner, and retired from
the room. In less than a minute he returned, and found his master sitting
where he had left him, but dead, with the basin of milk unspilled in his
hand. Without a struggle, the spirit had fled. As the servant expressed
it, “his poor master had given over living.” He had twice before said to
his doctor that “he had caught himself forgetting to breathe.” On hearing
of the good old man’s death, Watt wrote to Robison,--“I may say that
to him I owe, in a great measure, what I am; he taught me to reason and
experiment in natural philosophy, and was a true friend and philosopher,
whose loss will always be lamented while I live. We may all pray that our
latter end may be like his; he has truly gone to sleep in the arms of his
Creator, and been spared all the regrets attendant on a more lingering
exit. I could dwell longer on this subject; but regrets are unavailing,
and only tend to enfeeble our own minds, and make them less able to bear
the ills we cannot avoid. Let us cherish the friends we have left, and do
as much good as we can in our day!”[391]

Lord Cockburn, in his ‘Memorials,’ gives the following graphic portrait of
the father of modern chemistry:--“Dr. Black was a striking and beautiful
person; tall, very thin, and cadaverously pale; his hair carefully
powdered, though there was little of it except what was collected into a
long thin queue; his eyes dark, clear, and large, like deep pools of pure
water. He wore black speckless clothes, silk stockings, silver buckles,
and either a slim green silk umbrella, or a genteel brown cane. His
general frame and air was feeble and slender. The wildest boy respected
Black. No lad could be irreverent towards a man so pale, so gentle, so
elegant, and so illustrious. So he glided, like a spirit, through our
rather mischievous sportiveness, unharmed.”[392]

    [391] Cited in Muirhead’s ‘Origin and Progress of the Mechanical
      Inventions of James Watt,’ ii. 264

    [392] Lord Cockburn’s ‘Memorials,’ 51.

Of the famous Lunar Society, Boulton and Watt now remained almost the
only surviving members. Day was killed by a fall from his horse in
1789. Josiah Wedgwood closed his noble career at Etruria in 1795, in the
sixty-fifth year of his age. Dr. Withering, distinguished alike in botany
and medicine, died in 1799, of a lingering consumption. Dr. Darwin was
seized by his last attack of angina pectoris in 1802, and, being unable
to bleed himself, as he had done before, he called upon his daughter to
apply the lancet to his arm; but, before she could do so, he fell back
in his chair and expired. Dr. Priestley, driven forth into exile,[393]
closed his long and illustrious career at Northumberland in Pennsylvania
in 1803. The Lunar Society was thus all but extinguished by death; the
vacant seats remained unfilled; and the meetings were no longer held.

    [393] It is a remarkable fact that Dr. Priestley was regarded with
      as much suspicion in America as he had been in England. The
      American government looked upon him as a spy in the interest
      of France; and he had great difficulty in forming a Unitarian
      congregation. The horror of the French Revolution, which had
      extended to America, was the cause of the hostile feeling
      displayed towards him. “The change that has taken place,” he
      said, in a letter dated 6th September, 1798, “is indeed hardly
      credible, as I have done nothing to provoke resentment; but,
      being a citizen of France, and a friend to the Revolution,
      is sufficient. I asked one of the more moderate of the party
      whether he thought, if Dr. Price, the great friend of their own
      Revolution, were alive, he would now be allowed to come into
      this country. He said, he believed he would not!”--In 1801 Dr.
      Priestley, by deed of trust, appointed Matthew Boulton, Samuel
      Galton, and Wm. Vaughan, Esqrs., trustees for Mrs. Finch (his
      daughter) and her children, in respect of 1200_l._ invested for
      their benefit in public securities.

But the bereavements which Watt naturally felt the most, were the deaths
of his own children. He had two by his second wife, a son and a daughter,
both full of promise, who had nearly grown up to adult age, when they
died. Jessie was of a fragile constitution from her childhood, but her
health seemed to become re-established as she grew in years. But before
she had entered womanhood, the symptoms of an old pulmonary affection made
their appearance, and she was carried off by consumption. Mr. Watt was
much distressed by the event, confessing that he felt as if one of the
strongest ties that bound him to life was broken, and that the acquisition
of riches availed him nothing when unable to give them to those he loved.
In a letter to a friend, he thus touchingly alluded to one of the most
sorrowful associations connected with the deaths of children:--“Mrs. Watt
continues to be much affected whenever anything recalls to her mind the
amiable child we have parted with; and these remembrances occur but too
frequently,--her little works of ingenuity, her books and other objects
of study, serve as mementoes of her who was always to the best of her
power usefully employed even to the last day of her life. With me, whom
age has rendered incapable of the _passion_ of grief, the feeling is a
deep regret; and, did nature permit, my tears would flow as fast as her

To divert and relieve his mind, as was his wont, he betook himself to
fresh studies and new inquiries. It is not improbable that the disease of
which his daughter had died, as well as his own occasional sufferings from
asthma, gave a direction to his thoughts, which turned on the inhalation
of gas as a remedial agent in pulmonary and other diseases. Dr. Beddoes
of Bristol had started the idea, which Watt now took up and prosecuted
with his usual zeal. He contrived an apparatus for extracting, washing,
and collecting gases, as well as for administering them by inhalation.
He professed that he had taken up the subject not because he understood
it, but because nobody else did, and that he could not withhold anything
which might be of use in prompting others to do better. The result of his
investigations was published at Bristol under the title of ‘Considerations
on the Medicinal use of Fictitious Airs,’ the first part of which was
written by Dr. Beddoes, and the second part by Watt.

But a still heavier blow than the loss of his only daughter, was the death
of his son Gregory a few years later. He was a young man of the highest
promise, and resembled Watt himself in many respects--in mind, character,
and temperament. Those who knew him while a student at Glasgow College,
spoke of him long after in terms of the most glowing enthusiasm. Among
his fellow-students were Francis, afterwards Lord Jeffrey, and the poet
Campbell. Both were captivated not less by the brilliancy of his talents
than by the charming graces of his person. Campbell spoke of him as “a
splendid stripling--literally the most beautiful youth I ever saw. When
he was only twenty-two, an eminent English artist--Howard, I think--made
his head the model of a picture of Adam.” Campbell, Thomson, and Gregory
Watt, were class-fellows in Greek, and avowed rivals; but the rivalry
only served to cement their friendship. In the session of 1793–4, after
a brilliant competition which excited unusual interest, the prize was
awarded to Thomson; but, with the exception of the victor himself, Gregory
was the most delighted student in the class. “He was,” says the biographer
of Campbell, “a generous, liberal, and open-hearted youth; so attached
to his friend, and so sensible of his merit, that the honours conferred
on Thomson obliterated all recollections of personal failure.”[394]
Francis Jeffrey was present at the commemoration of the first of May,
two years later, and was especially struck with the eloquence of young
Watt, “who obtained by far the greatest number of prizes, and degraded the
prize-readers most inhumanly by reading a short composition of his own,
a translation of the Chorus of the Medea, with so much energy and grace,
that the verses seemed to me better perhaps than they were in reality. He
is a young man of very eminent capacity, and seems to have all the genius
of his father, with a great deal of animation and ardour which is all his

    [394] Beattie’s ‘Life of Campbell,’ i. 112.

    [395] Letter to M. R. Morehead, 7th May, 1796.

Campbell thought him born to be a great orator, and anticipated for
him the greatest success in Parliament or at the Bar. His father had,
however, already destined him to follow his own business. Indeed, Gregory
was introduced a partner into the Soho concern about the same time as
Mr. Boulton, jun., and his elder brother James. But he never gave much
attention to the business. Scarcely had he left college, before symptoms
of pulmonary affection showed themselves; and, a physician having been
consulted, Mr. Watt was recommended to send his son to reside in the
south of England. He accordingly went to Penzance for the benefit of
its mild climate, and, by a curious coincidence, he took up his abode as
boarder and lodger in the house of Humphry Davy’s mother. The afterwards
brilliant chemist was then a boy some years younger than Gregory. He had
already made experiments in chemistry, with sundry phials and kitchen
utensils, assisted by an old glyster apparatus presented to him by
the surgeon of a French vessel wrecked on the coast. Although Gregory
possessed great warmth of heart, there was a degree of coldness in his
manner to strangers, which repelled any approach to familiarity. When
his landlady’s son, therefore, began talking to him of metaphysics and
poetry, he was rather disposed to turn a deaf ear; but when Davy touched
upon the subject of chemistry, and made the rather daring boast for a boy,
that he would undertake to demolish the French theory in half an hour,
Gregory’s curiosity was roused. The barrier of ice between them was at
once removed; and from thenceforward they became attached friends.[396]
Young Davy was encouraged to prosecute his experiments, which the
other watched with daily increasing interest; and in the course of the
following year, Gregory communicated to Dr. Beddoes, of Bristol, then
engaged in establishing his Pneumatic Institution, an account of Davy’s
experiments on light and heat, the result of which was his appointment as
superintendent of the experiments at the Institution, and the subsequent
direction of his studies and investigations.

    [396] Paris’s ‘Life of Davy,’ i. 48–9.

Gregory’s health having been partially re-established by his residence at
Penzance, he shortly after returned to his father’s house at Birmingham,
whither Davy frequently went, and kept up the flame of his ambition by
intercourse with congenial minds. Gregory heartily co-operated with his
father in his investigations on air, besides inquiring and experimenting
on original subjects of his own selection. Among these may be mentioned
his inquiries into the gradual refrigeration of basalt, his paper on
which, read before the Royal Society, would alone entitle him to a
distinguished rank among experimentalists.[397]

    [397] ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ xcix. 279.

By the kindness of his elder brother James, Gregory Watt was relieved of
his share of the work at Soho, and was thereby enabled to spend much of
his time in travelling about for the benefit of his health. Early in 1801,
we find him making excursions in the western counties in company with Mr.
Murdock, jun.; and looking forward with still greater anticipations of
pleasure to the tour which he subsequently made through France, Germany,
and Austria. We find him afterwards writing his father from Freiburg,
to the effect that he was gradually growing stronger, and was free from
pulmonary affection. From Leipzig he sent an equally favourable account of
himself, and gave his father every hope that on his return he would find
him strong and sound.

These anticipations, however, proved delusive, for the canker was already
gnawing at poor Gregory’s vitals. Returned home, he busied himself with
his books, his experiments, and his speculations; assisting his father in
recording observations on the effects of nitrous oxide and other gases.
But it was shortly found necessary to send him again to the south of
England for the benefit of a milder climate. In the beginning of 1804,
his father and mother went with him to Clifton, where he had an attack of
intermittent fever, which left him very weak. From thence they removed to
Bath, and remained there for about a month, the invalid being carefully
attended by Dr. Beddoes. During their stay at Bath, Gregory’s brother paid
him a visit, and was struck by his altered appearance. The fever had left
him, but his cough and difficulty of breathing were very distressing to
witness. As usual in such complaints, his mind was altogether unaffected.
“Indeed,” wrote his brother, “he is as bright, clear, and vigorous, upon
every subject as I ever knew him to be. His voice, too, is firm and good,
and when he enters into conversation I should lose the recollection of
his complaint if his appearance did not so forcibly remind me of it. It
is fortunate that he does not suffer much bodily pain, or, so far as I can
discover, any mental anxiety as to the issue of his complaint.”[398]

    [398] J. Watt, jun., to M. R. Boulton, 8th June, 1804.

When Gregory was sufficiently recovered from the debilitating effects of
his fever, he was moved to Sidmouth, where he appeared to improve; but
he himself believed the sea air to be injurious to him, and insisted on
being again removed inland. During all this time his father’s anxiety may
be imagined, though he bore up with as much equanimity as was practicable
under circumstances so distressing. “Ever since we left Bath,” he wrote
to Mr. Boulton at Soho, “ours has been a state of anxiety very distressing
to us, and the communication of which would not have been pleasing to our
friends. To add to this, I have myself been exceedingly unwell, though I
am now much better. Gregory suffered very much from the journey, which
was augmented by his own impatience; and though he seemed to recover a
little from his fatigue during the first week, his breath became daily
worse, until we were obliged to remove him, on Thursday last, to the
neighbourhood of Exeter, where he now is with his aunt.”[399] The invalid
became rapidly worse, and survived his removal only a few days. “This
day,” wrote the sorrowing father to Boulton, “the remains of poor Gregory
were deposited in a decent, though private manner, in the north aisle
of the cathedral here, near the transept.... I mean to erect a tablet to
his memory on the adjoining wall; but his virtues and merits will be best
recorded in the breasts of his friends.... As soon as we can settle our
accounts, we shall all return homewards, with heavy hearts.”[400]

    [399] Watt to Boulton, Sidmouth, 14th October, 1804.

    [400] Watt to Boulton, Exeter, 22nd October, 1804.

Davy was deeply affected by Gregory Watt’s death; and in the freshness of
his grief he thus unbosomed himself to his friend Clayfield:--

  “Poor Watt! He ought not to have died. I could not persuade myself
  that he would die; and until the very moment when I was assured of
  his fate, I would not believe he was in any danger. His letters
  to me, only three or four months ago, were full of spirit, and
  spoke not of any infirmity of body, but of an increased strength
  of mind. Why is this in the order of Nature,--that there is such
  a difference in the duration and destruction of his works? If
  the mere stone decays it is to produce a soil which is capable of
  nourishing the moss and the lichen; when the moss and the lichen
  die and decompose, they produce a mould which becomes the bed
  of life to grass, and to a more exalted species of vegetables.
  Vegetables are the food of animals,--the less perfect animals of
  the more perfect; but in man, the faculties and intellect are
  perfected,--he rises, exists for a little while in disease and
  misery, and then would seem to disappear, without an end, and
  without producing any effect.

  “We are deceived, my dear Clayfield, if we suppose that the human
  being who has formed himself for action, but who has been unable
  to act, is lost in the mass of being; there is some arrangement of
  things which we can never comprehend, but in which his faculties
  will be applied.... We know very little; but, in my opinion,
  we know enough to hope for the immortality, the individual
  immortality of the better part of man. I have been led into all
  this speculation, which you may well think wild, in reflecting
  upon the fate of Gregory! My feeling has given wings to my mind.
  He was a noble fellow, and would have been a great man. Oh! there
  was no reason for his dying--he ought not to have died.”[401]

    [401] Paris’s ‘Life of Davy,’ i. 198–200.

More deaths! A few years later, and Watt lost his oldest friend, Professor
Robison of Edinburgh, his companion and fellow-worker at Glasgow College
nearly fifty years before. Since then, their friendship had remained
unchanged, though their respective pursuits kept them apart. Robison
continued busily and usefully occupied to the last. He had finished
the editing of his friend Black’s lectures, and was occupied in writing
his own ‘Elements of Mechanical Philosophy,’ when death came and kindly
released him from a lingering disorder which had long oppressed his body,
though it did not enervate his mind. A few years before his death he
wrote Watt, informing him that he had got an addition to his family in
a fine little boy, a grandchild, healthy and cheerful, who promised to
be a source of much amusement to him. “I find this a great acquisition,”
said he, “notwithstanding a serious thought sometimes stealing into my
mind. I am infinitely delighted with observing the growth of its little
soul, and particularly with the numberless instincts, which formerly
passed unheeded. I thank the French theorists for more forcibly directing
my attention to the finger of God, which I discover in every awkward
movement and every wayward whim. They are all guardians of his life, and
growth, and powers. I regret that I have not time to make infancy, and
the development of its powers, my sole study.”[402] In 1805 he was taken
from his little playfellow, and from the pursuit of his many ingenious
speculations.[403] Watt said of him, “he was a man of the clearest head
and the most science of anybody I have ever known, and his friendship
to me ended only with his life, after having continued for nearly
half a century.... His religion and piety, which made him patiently
submit without even a fretful or repining word in nineteen years of
unremitting pain,--his humility, in his modest opinion of himself,--his
kindness, in labouring with such industry for his family during all this
affliction,--his moderation for himself, while indulging an unbounded
generosity to all about him,--joined to his talents, form a character so
uncommon and so noble, as can with difficulty be conceived by those who
have not, like me, had the contemplation of it.”

    [402] Cited in Muirhead’s ‘Mechanical Inventions of James
      Watt,--Correspondence,’ ii. 269.

    [403] One of these, thrown out in a letter to Watt, may be
      mentioned--a speculation since revived by the late Dr. S. Brown
      of Edinburgh,--the transmutation of bodies. “These are wonderful
      steps,” said he, “which are every day making in chemical
      analysis. The analysis of the alkalis and alkaline earths by
      Guyton, by Henry, and others, will presently lead, I think,
      to the doctrine of _a reciprocal convertibility of all things
      into all_. It brings to mind a minister lecturing on the first
      chapter of one of the Gospels, when, after reading, ‘Adam begat
      Abel, and Abel begat,’ &c.,--to save himself the trouble of so
      many cramp names, he said, ‘and so they all begat one another
      to the 15th verse.’ I expect to see alchemy revive, and be as
      universally studied as ever.”

Little more remains to be recorded of the business life of Boulton and
Watt. The former, notwithstanding his declining health and the frequent
return of his malady, continued to take an active interest in the Soho
coinage. Watt often expostulated with him, but in vain, urging that it
was time for him to retire wholly from the anxieties of business. On
Boulton bringing out his Bank of England silver dollar, with which he was
himself greatly pleased, he sent some specimens to Watt, then staying at
Clifton, for his inspection. Watt replied,--“Your dollar is universally
admired by all to whom we have shown it, though your friends fear much
that your necessary attention to the operation of the coinage may injure
your health.”[404] And again he wrote from Sidmouth,--“We are all glad to
hear of your amendment, which we hope will be progressive, and possibly it
might be better if you could summon up resolution enough to rid yourself
of some of those plagues you complain of; but while you suffer yourself
to be intruded upon in the manner you do, you can never enjoy that quiet
which is now so necessary to your health and comfort.”[405] Mrs. Watt
joined her entreaties to those of her husband, expressing the wish that,
for Mr. Boulton’s sake, it might rain every day, to prevent his fatiguing
himself by walking to and from the works, and there occupying himself with
the turmoils of business. Why should he not do as Mr. Watt had done, and
give up Soho altogether, leaving business and its anxieties to younger and
stronger men? But business, as we have already explained, was Boulton’s
habit, and pleasure, and necessity. Moreover, occupation of some sort
served to divert his attention from the ever-present pain within him; and,
so long as his limbs were able to support him, he tottered down the hill
to see what was going forward at Soho.

    [404] Watt to Boulton, 13th May, 1804.

    [405] Watt to Boulton, 14th October, 1804.

As for Watt, we find that he had at last learnt the art of taking things
easy, and that he was trying to make life as agreeable as possible in his
old age. Thus at Cheltenham, from which place Mrs. Watt addressed Boulton
in the letter of advice above referred to, we find the aged pair making
pleasant excursions in the neighbourhood during the day, and reading
novels and going to the theatre occasionally in the evening. “As it is the
fashion,” wrote Mrs. Watt,--“and wishing to be very fashionable people,
we subscribe to the library. Our first book was Mrs. Opie’s ‘Mother and
Daughter,’ a tale so mournful as to make both Mr. Watt and myself cry
like schoolboys that had been whipped; ... and to dispel the gloom that
poor Adeline hung over us, we went to the theatre last night to see the
‘Honeymoon,’ and were highly pleased.”

Towards the end of 1807 Boulton had a serious attack of his old disease,
which fairly confined him to his bed; and his friends feared lest it
should prove his last illness. He was verging upon his eightieth year,
and his constitution, though originally strong, was gradually succumbing
to confinement and pain. He nevertheless rallied once more, and was again
able to make occasional visits to the works as before. He had promised to
send a box of medals to the Queen, and went down to the Mint to see them
packed. The box duly reached Windsor Castle, and De Luc acknowledged its

  “As no words of mine,” he said, “could have conveyed your
  sentiments to Her Majesty so well as those addressed to me in
  your name, I contented myself with putting the letter into her
  hands. Her Majesty expressed her sensibility for the sufferings
  you had undergone during the period of your silence, and at your
  plentiful gift, for which she has charged me to thank you; and
  as, at the same time that you have placed the whole at her own
  disposal, you have mentioned the Princesses, Her Majesty will make
  them partakers in the present.”

De Luc concluded by urging Mr. Boulton to abstain from further work and
anxiety, and reminded him that after a life of such activity as his had
been, both body and mind required complete rest.

  “Life,” said he, “in this world is a state of trial, and as
  long as God gives us strength we are not to shun even painful
  employments which are duties. But in the decline of life, when
  the strength fails, we ought to drop all thought of objects to
  which we are no longer equal, in order to preserve the serenity
  and liberty of mind with which we are to consider our exit from
  this world to a better. May God prolong your life without pain
  for the good you do constantly, is the sincere wish of your very
  affectionate friends (father and daughter),
                                                       “DE LUC.”[406]

    [406] De Luc to Boulton, Windsor Castle, 25th January, 1807.
      It had been arranged that George III., the Queen, and the
      Princesses, should pay a visit to Soho in 1805, though the King
      had by that time become quite blind. When told of Boulton’s
      illness, and that he was confined to bed, his Majesty replied,
      “Then I will visit Mr. Boulton in his sick-chamber” (MS. Memoir
      by Mr. Keir). The royal visit was eventually put off, the
      Council advising that the King should go direct to Weymouth and
      nowhere else.

Boulton’s life was, indeed, drawing to a close. He had for many years been
suffering from an agonising and incurable disease--stone in the kidneys
and bladder--and waited for death as for a friend. The strong man was
laid low; and the night had at length come when he could work no more.
The last letter which he wrote was to his daughter, in March, 1809; but
the characters are so flickering and indistinct as to be scarcely legible.
“If you wish to see me living,” he wrote, “pray come soon, for I am very
ill.” Nevertheless, he suffered on for several months longer. At last he
was released from his pain, and peacefully expired on the 17th of August,
1809, at the age of eighty-one. Though he fell like a shock of corn in
full season, his death was lamented by a wide circle of relatives and
friends. A man of strong affections, with an almost insatiable appetite
for love and sympathy, he inspired others with like feelings towards
himself; and when he died, they felt as if a brother had gone. He was
alike admired and beloved by his workmen; and when he was carried to his
last resting-place in Handsworth Church, six hundred of them followed the
hearse, and there was scarcely a dry eye among them.[407]

    [407] The following is the inscription on the mural monument
      erected to his memory in the side aisle of Handsworth Church,
      in the composition of which James Watt assisted:--

                          Sacred to the Memory of
                          MATTHEW BOULTON, F.R.S.
   By the skilful exertion of a mind turned to Philosophy and Mechanics,
              The application of a taste correct and refined,
                    And an ardent spirit of enterprize,
                  he improved, embellished, and extended
                 The Arts and Manufactures of his country,
         Leaving his Establishment of Soho a noble monument of his
                      Genius, industry, and success.
  The character his talents had raised, his virtues adorned and exalted.
         Active to discern merit, and prompt to relieve distress,
         His encouragement was liberal, his benevolence unwearied.
                 Honoured and admired at home and abroad,
   He closed a life eminently useful, the 17th of August, 1809, Aged 81,
                      Esteemed, loved, and lamented.

Matthew Boulton was, indeed, a man of truly noble nature. Watt, than whom
none knew him better, was accustomed to speak of him as “the princely
Boulton.” He was generous and high-souled, a lover of truth, honour, and
uprightness. His graces were embodied in a manly and noble person. We
are informed through Dr. Guest that on one occasion, when Mr. Boulton’s
name was mentioned in his father’s presence, he observed, “_the ablest
man_ I ever knew.” On the remark being repeated to Dr. Edward Johnson,
a courtly man, he said,--“As to his ability, other persons can better
judge. But I can say that he was _the best mannered man_ I ever knew.”
The appreciation of both was alike just and characteristic, and has since
been confirmed by Mrs. Schimmelpenninck. She describes with admiration his
genial manner, his fine radiant countenance, and his superb munificence:
“He was in person tall, and of a noble appearance; his temperament was
sanguine, with that slight mixture of the phlegmatic which gives calmness
and dignity; his manners were eminently open and cordial; he took the lead
in conversation; and, with a social heart, had a grandiose manner, like
that arising from position, wealth, and habitual command. He went about
among his people like a monarch bestowing largesse.”


    [408] The monument to Boulton is on the left hand of the altar in
      the above illustration; that of Murdock is opposite to it, on
      the right.

Boswell was equally struck by Boulton’s personal qualities when he visited
Soho in 1776, shortly after the manufacture of steam-engines had been
begun there. “I shall never forget,” he says, “Mr. Boulton’s expression to
me when surveying the works. ‘I sell here, sir, what all the world desires
to have, POWER.’ He had,” continues Boswell, “about seven hundred people
at work. I contemplated him as an iron chieftain, and he seemed to be a
father of his tribe. One of the men came to him complaining grievously of
his landlord for having distrained his goods. “Your landlord is in the
right, Smith,” said Boulton; “but I’ll tell you what--find a friend who
will lay down one half of your rent, and I’ll lay down the other, and you
shall have your goods again.””

It would be a mistake to suppose that there was any affectation in
Boulton’s manner, or that his dignified bearing in society was anything
but natural to him. He was frank, cheerful, and affectionate, as his
letters to his wife, his children, and his friends, amply demonstrate.
None knew better than he how to win hearts, whether of workmen, mining
adventurers, or philosophers. “I have thought it but respectful,” he
wrote Watt from Cornwall, “to give our folks a dinner at a public-house
near Wheal Virgin to-day. There were present William Murdock, Lawson,
Pearson, Perkins, Malcolm, Robert Muir, all Scotchmen, and John Bull, with
self and Wilson,--for the engines are all now finished, and the men have
behaved well, and are attached to us.” At Soho he gave an entertainment
on a much larger scale upon his son coming of age in 1791, when seven
hundred persons sat down to dinner. Boswell’s description of him as the
father of his tribe is peculiarly appropriate. No well-behaved workman was
ever turned adrift. On the contrary, fathers introduced their sons into
the factory, and brought them up under their own eye, watching over their
conduct and their mechanical training. Thus generation after generation
of workmen followed in each other’s footsteps at Soho.

There was, no doubt, good business policy in this; for Boulton knew
that by attaching the workmen to him, and inspiring them with pride in
the concern, he was maintaining that prestige which, before the days
of machine tools, would not have been possible without the aid of a
staff of carefully-trained and highly-skilled mechanics. Yet he had many
scapegraces amongst them--hard drinkers, pugilists,[409] cock-fighters,
and scamps. Watt often got wholly out of patience with them, and urged
their dismissal, whatever might be the consequence. But though none knew
so well as Watt how to manage machines, none knew so ill how to manage
men. Boulton’s practical wisdom usually came to the rescue. He would
tolerate any moral shortcoming save treachery and dishonesty. But he
knew that most of the men had been brought up in a bad school, often in
no school at all. “Have pity on them, bear with them, give them another
trial,” he would say; “our works must not be brought to a standstill
because perfect men are not yet to be had.” “True wisdom,” he observed on
another occasion, “directs us, when we can, to turn even evils into good.
We must take men as we find them, and try to make the best of them.”

    [409] Isaac Perrins was one of the most noted among the fighters
      of Soho. Mr. Scale, a partner in the hardware business, wrote to
      Mr. Boulton, then at Cosgarne (15th October, 1782),--“Perrins
      has had a battle with the famous Jemmy Sargent for a hundred
      guineas, in which Perrins came off conqueror without a fall
      or hurt: in 13 rounds he knocked down his antagonist 13 times.
      They had it out at Colemore on our Wake Monday. The Sohoites all
      returned with blue cockades.” Mrs. Watt, in a gossipy letter to
      Mr. Boulton of the same date, says “1500_l._ was betted against
      Perrins at Birmingham, and lost.” Perrins’s success led him to
      turn “professional bruiser” for a time, and he left his place in
      the smith’s shop. But either not succeeding in his new business,
      or finding the work harder than that of the smithy, he came back
      to Soho, and, being a good workman, he was taken on again and
      remained in Boulton’s employment till the close of his life,
      leaving sons to succeed him in the same department.

Still further to increase the attachment of the workmen to Soho, and
keep together his school of skilled industry, as he called it, Boulton
instituted a Mutual Assurance Society in connexion with the works; the
first of the kind, so far as we are aware, established by any large
manufacturer for the benefit of his workmen. Every person employed in the
manufactory, in whatsoever condition, was required to be a member. Boys
receiving 2_s._ 6_d._ a week paid a halfpenny weekly to the box; those
receiving 5_s._ paid a penny a week, and so on, up to men receiving 20_s._
a week, who contributed 4_d._; payments being made to them out of the fund
during sickness and disablement, in proportion to their contributions
during health. The effects of the Society were most salutary; it
cultivated habits of providence and thoughtfulness amongst the men; bound
them together by ties of common interest; and it was only in the cases
of irreclaimable drunkards that any members of the Soho Friendly Society
ever came upon the parish.

But this was only a small item in the constitution of the Soho
manufactory. Before its establishment, comparatively little attention
had been given to the organisation of labour on a large scale. Workshops
were so small that everything went on immediately under the master’s eye,
and workmen got accustomed to ply at their work diligently, being well
watched. But when manufacturing was carried on upon so large a scale as
at Soho, and separate processes were conducted in different rooms and
workshops, it was impossible that the master’s eye should be over all his
workers, or over even any considerable portion of them at the same time.
It was therefore necessary to introduce a new system. Hence the practice
of inspection by deputy, and the appointment of skilled and trustworthy
foremen for the purpose of enforcing strict discipline in the various
shops, and at the same time economising labour and ensuring excellence of
workmanship. In carrying out this arrangement, Boulton proved remarkably
successful: and Soho came to be regarded as a model establishment.
Men came from all parts to see and admire its organisation; and when
Wedgwood proceeded to erect his great pottery works at Etruria, he paid
many preliminary visits to Soho for the purpose of ascertaining how the
difficulties occasioned by the irregular habits of the workpeople had been
so successfully overcome by his friend, and applying the results of his
experience in the organisation of his own manufactory.

Though Boulton could not keep his eye directly on the proceedings in
the shops, he was quick to discern when anything was going wrong. While
sitting in the midst of his factory, surrounded by the clang of hammers
and the noise of engines, he could usually detect when any stoppage
occurred, or when the machinery was going too fast or too slow, and issue
his orders accordingly. The sound of the tools going, and the hammers
clanging, which to strangers was merely an intolerable noise, was an
intelligible music in his ears; and, like the leader of an orchestra,
who casts his eye at once in the direction of the player of a wrong
note, so Boulton was at once conscious of the slightest dissonance in the
performances of his manufactory, and took the necessary steps immediately
to correct it.

From what we have already said, it will be sufficiently clear that
Boulton was a first-rate man of business. He had a hearty enthusiasm
for his calling, and took a just pride in it. In conducting it, he was
guided by fine tact, great knowledge of character, and sound practical
wisdom. When fully satisfied as to the course he should pursue, he
acted with remarkable vigour and promptitude, bending his whole mind
to the enterprise which he had taken in hand. It was natural that he
should admire in others the qualities he himself desired to possess. “I
can’t say,” he wrote to Watt, “but that I admire John Wilkinson for his
decisive, clear, and distinct character, which is, I think, a first-rate
one of its kind.” Like Wilkinson, Boulton was also distinguished for his
indomitable pluck; and in no respect was this more strikingly displayed
than in his prosecution of the steam-engine enterprise.

Playfair has truly said, that had Watt searched all Europe over, he could
not have found another person so fitted to bring his invention before the
public in a manner worthy of its merits and importance. Yet Boulton was
by no means eager to engage in the scheme. Watt could with difficulty
persuade him to take it up; and it was only in exchange for a bad debt
that he at length became a partner in it. But when once fairly committed,
he threw himself into the enterprise with an extraordinary degree of
vigour. He clearly recognised in the steam-engine a power destined to
revolutionise the industrial operations of the world. To M. Argand, the
famous French lamp inventor, he described it as “the most certain, the
most regular, the most durable, and the most effective machine in Nature,
so far as her powers have yet been revealed to mortal knowledge;” and he
declared to him that, finding he could be of more use to manufactures and
to mankind in general by employing all his powers in the capacity of an
engineer, than in fabricating any kind of clincaillerie whatsoever, he
would thenceforward devote himself wholly to his new enterprise.

But it was no easy work he had undertaken. He had to struggle against
prejudices, opposition, detraction, and difficulties of all kinds.
Not the least difficulty he had to strive against was the timidity and
faint-heartedness of his partner. For years Watt was on the brink of
despair. He kept imploring Boulton to relieve him from his troubles; he
wished to die and be at rest; he “cursed his inventions;” indeed he was
the most miserable of men. But Boulton never lost heart. He was hopeful,
courageous, and strong--Watt’s very backbone. He felt convinced that the
invention must eventually succeed, and he never for a moment lost faith
in it. He braved and risked everything to “carry the thing through.”
He mortgaged his lands to the last farthing; borrowed from his personal
friends; raised money by annuities; obtained advances from bankers; and
had invested upwards of 40,000_l._ in the enterprise before it began to

During this terrible struggle he was more than once on the brink of
insolvency, but continued as before to cheer and encourage his fainting
partner. “Keep your mind and your heart pleasant if possible,” he wrote
to Wat