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THE present volume may, it is hoped, supply a want which has long been felt; that, viz., of a full, yet compendious and authentic biography of James Watt. In a recent work,* prepared by the author from the MSS. of the great engineer preserved by his son, as well as from others, of no less value, in the possession of Mr. Boulton, there were comprised, (1.) a Biographical Memoir of Mr. Watt; (2.) a Selection from his Correspondence; and (3.) the Specifications of all of his Patents. The favour with which that work was received by the press and the public is gratefully acknowledged. The long series, however, of large copper-plate engravings of machinery by which it was illustrated,-(thirty-four in number, delineating no fewer than sixty-eight separate figures,)-necessarily raised its cost above the means of many who might otherwise have desired to possess it; while the minute descriptions contained in the specifications of patents, and their relative drawings, are of course more desirable for the use of the scientific engineer and the mechanical philosopher, than of the general reader.
* The Origin and Progress of the Mechanical Inventions of James Watt,' 8 vols. 8vo. and 4to. London: John Murray, 1854.
The author has now, therefore, ventured to remodel, and to reproduce in a form at once more comprehensive, more convenient, and less costly, the Biographical Memoir above referred to. A few unimportant pages have been omitted; many of the most interesting passages from the correspondence of the great engineer have been incorporated; and other large additions, from various sources, have been made,-a considerable portion of the new matter relating to Mr. Watt's family and private history; while the principle has been adhered to, of allowing his inventions and discoveries to be explained, as far as possible, in his own plain, clear, and forcible language.
Of the immense results of those inventions, and their present and future value to the world, it is already difficult to form any adequate conception. But some faint idea of their magnitude may be gathered from such facts as these:-that less than a single century ago, only a few clumsy and imperfect "fire-engines," of the old atmospheric sort, were employed in pumping water out of some widely scattered coal-pits and mines; that they did their task laboriously, expensively, and badly; that steam was not then applied directly, nor, as then used, was it capable of being applied with advantage, either to manufactures, to processes in the Useful Arts, to- Navigation, to Land Transport, to War, or to Agriculture;-and that now, the united steam power of Great Britain alone, employed in all of those different ways, (every engine having been constructed since the improvements of Watt were first made known,) is estimated as equivalent to the manual
labour of upwards of four hundred millions of men, or more than double the number of males supposed to inhabit the globe.* How startling are such statistics;-how eloquently is the panegyric of the inventor thus expressed by the stupendous works of his genius!
As a kinsman of the illustrious engineer,-as long the intimate friend and now one of the executors of his son,and as the son-in-law of the late Mr. Boulton, the author has enjoyed the peculiar privilege of unrestrained access to the stores of original documents, as well as of anecdotes, by which this volume has been enriched. This circumstance may be a sufficient guarantee of the genuineness and interesting nature of the materials from which he has had to select; and the care bestowed in moulding them to their present form will be well repaid, if it secures a complete and accurate history of the life of one whom the common consent of mankind has now placed 'at the head of all inventors, in all ages and nations.'
The checkered career of so great a man,-now dark with shadows, now bright with lights,-may well teach the stern truth,
"That life is not as idle ore,
But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And batter'd with the shocks of doom
To shape and use:" †-
* ' Quarterly Review,' vol. civ. p. 411. 1858.
+ Tennyson, 'In Memoriam,' § cxvi.
yet it is full of hope and encouragement to those who read its lessons aright. For it sets forth the dignity of that intellectual pre-eminence, which crowns perseverance in honourable toil;—the lustre of that nobility of soul, which finds its highest scope even amid humble pursuits;—the majesty of that wisdom, which intently, tranquilly, and reverently searches out the mysterious works and ways of Creation.
"Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies;
As He pronounces lastly on each deed,
* Milton, 'Lycidas,' 1. 78–84.
THE Publishers have omitted portions of the original English edition which appeared unimportant and uninteresting to the American reader.
Introduction-Inventors and their history-Lineage of James Watt-His great-
grandfather-His grandfather Thomas Watt-Burgh of Crawfordsdyke-Burgh of
Greenock-Life and pursuits of Thomas Watt-His marriage-And death
John and James Watt of Greenock-Life and pursuits of James Watt of Greenock,
father of the great engineer-Agnes Muirheid, his wife-Muirheads of Lachop-
Flodden Field-Character, and death, of Agnes Muirheid or Watt-Her brother,
Children of James Watt of Greenock, and Agnes Muirheid-Birth of James Watt-
John Watt, his younger brother-James Watt's childhood-His home, education,
and feeble health-Mrs. Campbell's memoranda of his early years-His powers of
imagination-His first observation of the condensation of steam-Variety of his
Schools and schoolmasters of James Watt-Anecdotes of his boyish habits and pas-
times-Portraits of Napier and Newton-His call to be a mechanical philosopher
-His visit to Glasgow-Acquaintance with Professors of the University-Jour-
ney to London-Practice of mathematical-instrument-making-Return to Scot-
Mr. Watt's employment by the College of Glasgow-His establishment within its
walls as mathematical-instrument-maker to the University-Progress in his busi-
ness-Shop-keeping-His construction of organs and other musical instruments-
Instruments of his manufacture still in existence-Change of abode-His mar-