Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

good while back they have discharged this important part of their duty uprightly and well; and seem to have a proper sense of the importance of resisting all sinister influence in those interesting nominations. At this moment, too, they probably feel that they have not much popularity to spare; and, upon the whole, we have much more fear of their being misled than of their going voluntarily astray. The few considerations we have now thrown out may help, perhaps, to keep them right; and, indeed, they can scarcely go wrong, if they remember, first, that a person qualified to teach the elements of science, but without a name, or the chance of acquiring a name amongst its votaries, is not fit to be placed at the head of the whole science of Scotland, by being appointed to the first, or the second, scientific professorship in this metropolitan university; and secondly, that the chair now to be filled is a chair of science, and ought not to be made the reward of any other than scientific eminence.

391

No. XIV.

JAMES WATT, Esq.

D. C. L.

F, R. $. OF LONDON AND EDINBURGH, &c. &c. &c.

JAMES

AMES Wart, the great improver of the steam-engine, and one of the most eminent mechanical philosophers, if not the most eminent, of modern times, was born at Greenock in 1736.

His grandfather, Thomas Watt, had settled there after the civil wars, and was a mathematician of considerable talent. He had two sons, John and James, of whom the elder adopting the pursuits of his father settled at Glasgow, and is the author of what is believed to be the first survey of the river Clyde. James, the father of the celebrated man whose life we are attempting to sketch, followed the business of a merchant at Greenock with success and reputation for many years, and greatly promoted the improvement of his native town; but some losses and declining health induced him to retire from business, a few years before his death.

His son James, the subject of this essay, was from infancy of a very delicate constitution, and was with difficulty enabled to go through the common course of education of the public schools of Greenock. But that very circumstance of ill health probably led to those habits of retirement and reflection, which accompanied him through life, and to which his great discoveries may be ascribed.

be ascribed. Little is known of his earlier years, but it is not true, as has been elsewhere stated, that he ever served an apprenticeship. After leaving school, he resided in his father's house, and the examples of his grandfather and uncle would no doubt add to the natural bias of his mind for mechanical and physical pursuits. At the age of 18, he went to London, and placed himself under the tfiition of an eminent ma

[ocr errors]

а

thematical instrument-maker, with whom he only remained a twelvemonth, the infirm state of his health compelling his return to Greenock. In 1757, when he was only 21 years of age, he was appointed mathematical-instrument maker to the University of Glasgow, with apartments in the college, at which he resided until his marriage in 1763 or 1764 with his maternal cousin, Miss Miller, when he removed to the town, and carried on the business of a mathematical-instrument maker. In 1764 and 1765, he invented his well known improvement upon the principle of the steam-engine.

From about this time, he entered upon the business of a civil engineer, and planned and surveyed many public works and canals, which were among the first, if not the very first, in North Britain. Of these, the Monkland Canal was executed under his direction, and his lines have since been nearly followed in the Crinan and Caledonian Canals. To aid him in these surveys he invented a new micrometer and a machine for drawing in perspective.

He had given an interest in his improvement upon the steam-engine to his friend Dr. Roebuck, but it was not until 1769, that he reduced it to practice at Kennel near Burrowstoneness, where the Doctor then resided, and took out letterspatent for his “ Method of lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire-Engines.” Dr. Roebuck's losses in other concerns caused a suspension of proceedings, but he having agreed in 1774 to transfer his interest to Mr. Boulton of Soho near Birmingham, Mr. Watt removed from Glasgow to Soho. In the subsequent year, he obtained an act of parliament prolonging his patent for 25 years, and the business of maturing steam-engines was commenced by the firm of Boulton and Watt.

In 1780, he invented a method of copying letters and other writings, by a machine and process which bear his name, and which, simple as it is, would from its extensive utility alone have given celebrity to any other person.

The direct application of the steam-engine to mills and machinery requiring a rotatory motion had from the first been an

object of his attention, and in the years 1781, 1782, 1784, and 1785, he carried into execution a series of improvements, the most essential of which he secured by successive patents, including, among several other inventions, the rotatory motion of the sun and planet wheels, the expansive principle, the double engine, the parallel motion, and the smokeless furnace.

The mines in Cornwall, and many other of the deepest mines in the kingdom, had before this period adopted his reciprocating engines, which were attended with a saving of twothirds of the fuel consumed by those before in use, besides having a much more perfect mechanism, and being less liable to accidents, and repairs. But it is to the perfection to which Mr. Watt brought his rotative engines, and which existed in those first erected by him about the year 1784 for Mr. Whitbread's brewery and for the Albion Mills, in which latter he and Mr. Boulton were partners, that we are to ascribe the origin of that system of machinery which has produced so rapid an extension of our manufactures, population, and wealth.

From 1792 to 1799, his attention was almost entirely engrossed by the defence of his patent rights against numerous invaders, and after repeated verdicts, establishing the novelty and utility of his inventions, these rights were finally confirmed in the latter year by the decision of all the Judges of the Court of King's Bench.

During this period he was led by the illness of a daughter, to consider the subject of the medical application of the factitious airs, and contrived different apparatuses for that purpose, the description of which were published in Dr. Beddoe's pamphlets on pneumatic medicine in those years.

In 1800, upon the expiration of his Act of Parliament, he withdrew from business, resigning his share to his sons; but his mind still continued actively employed upon subjects of mechanical and physical science, and the amusement of the last period of his life consisted in contriving and executing a machine for carving busts and other objects of statuary, which he left in a state of great perfection.

His first wife died in 1773, leaving him a daughter and a son, the latter of whom survives him, having long been at the head of the business he established. He was married a second time, to Miss M'Gregor, of Glasgow, by whom he had a son and a daughter, both of whom he had the misfortune to lose, but not until his son, Mr. Gregory Watt, had given proof of the most splendid talent, of which his paper upon Basalt in the Philosophical Transactions, will prove a lasting memorial.

Mr. Watt was elected. a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in 1784, of the Royal Society of London in 1785, and a corresponding member of the Batavian Society in 1787. In 1806, the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, was conferred upon him by the spontaneous and unanimous vote of the Senate of the University of Glasgow; and in 1808, he was elected first a corresponding member, and afterwards foreign member of the National Institute of France.

His naturally infirm health had suffered much by the exertions of his mind during the period of his inventing and carrying into execution his great improvements on the Steam Engine, but by continual temperance and good management, and a thorough knowledge of his own constitution, which he treated with much medical skill, it improved as he advanced in age, and with faculties little impaired, he reached his eightyfourth

year; when, after a short illness of debility, rather than of pain, he expired at his own house, on the 25th of August, of the present year, 1819.

Here follows his character as drawn up by one of his own countrymen.

“ Death is still busy in our high places; and it is with great pain that we find ourselves called upon, so soon after the loss of Mr. Playfair, to record the decease of another of our illustrious countrymen, and one to whom mankind has been still more largely indebted. Mr. James Watt, the great improver of the steam-engine, died on the 25th ultimo, at his seat of Heathfield, near Birmingham, in the 84th year of his age.

“ This name, fortunately, needs no commemoration of ours; for he that bore it survived to see it crowned with undisputed

а

« AnteriorContinuar »