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DEPRESSION OF SPIRITS INSOLVENCY OF DR. ROEBUCK — FORMATION OF
PARTNERSHIP WITH MR. BOULTON - TRANSFERENCE OF THE NEW ENGINE TO SOHO
PROLONGATION OF PATENT OF 1769 - DEATH OF DR. SMALL - NOTICES OF HIS LIFE, TALENTS, AND VIRTUES - PROGRESS AND PROSPECTS OF THE NEW MANUFACTORY ARTICLES OF PART
The death of his wife put the finishing stroke to a long series of adverse circumstances by which Watt had been oppressed. For years previously he had complained of frequent violent headaches, and almost constant bad health ; of what he called laziness, stupefaction, and confusion of ideas, which no doubt meant the mental weariness arising from severe and anxious over-exertion; of the hatefulness of the employment of land-surveying, to which he had then become a slave; of his detestation of making bargains, or settling accounts, or forcing workmen to do their duty; so that “I greatly doubt,” he says in 1770, " whether the silent mansions of the grave “ be not the happiest abodes.” “I am heart-sick of this
country,” he writes, after the loss of his wife, to his sympathising friend Dr. Small, “I am indolent to excess, and, what “ alarms me most, I grow the longer the stupider. My
memory fails me so as often totally to forget occurrences of
no very ancient dates. I see myself condemned to a life of “ business; nothing can be more disagreeable to me; I “ tremble when I hear the name of a man I have any trans“actions to settle with. The engineering business is not a “ vigorous plant here; we are in general very poorly paid. “ This last year my whole gains do not exceed 2001., though
some people have paid me very genteelly. There are also “ many disagreeable circumstances I cannot write; in short “I must, as far as I see, change my abode. There are two “ things which occur to me, either to try England, or “ endeavour to get some lucrative place abroad; but I doubt “my interest for the latter. What I am fittest for is a sur“ veying engineer. Is there any business in that way?” And, about the same time, it appears that Dr. Roebuck had mentioned Mr. Watt having had an intention of passing the winter in France; to escape, doubtless, from the sorrowful associations that now pressed upon him in his own country.
These circumstances all concurred with the disastrous state of affairs at Borrowstoness and Kinneil, to hasten the final settlement of the agreement with Mr. Boulton and Dr. Small. But it was now evident, since Roebuck had become insolvent, and therefore unable to be any longer a partner in the proposed manufacture, that instead of one-half of his two-thirds of the patent of the engine, or one-third of the whole patent, as originally intended when that agreement was entered into in 1769, the whole of his interest would have to be purchased from him or his creditors. We have already seen that Boulton and Small were not more desirous of benefiting Watt, than Watt was of benefiting Roebuck; and also, that although all four were anxious to see the engine prosecuted to completion, and its merits tested by actual performance on a great scale, none of them, (and, least of all, the inventor), estimated the invention, as then attempted to be carried out, as of any very high pecuniary value. In this view, it fortunately happened, that Roebuck's creditors most fully concurred; “none of his creditors," writes Watt to Small,* " value the engine at a farthing;" and this uncomplimentary estimate,—at which we now so well may marvel, and the creditors might soon afterwards have mourned,—was really of the greatest service in hastening the progress of the transference of the property.
On terms satisfactory at the time to Dr. Roebuck, and which consisted in part at least of Mr. Boulton releasing him from a debt of 6301. due to him by the Doctor, and of the payment by Mr. Boulton of a further sum of 10001., this transference at last took place, to Mr. Boulton alone;
* 25 July, 1773.
Dr. Small having by that time otherwise engaged all of his available funds. The 1000l. paid were to be the first 10001. of profit, (without repayment of any already sunk), that might arise after the commencement of the partnership of Boulton and Watt. And in 1773 Mr. Watt and Dr. Roebuck executed a mutual discharge, which, as an interesting document in the history of the modern steam-engine, we shall here give entire :
“In the year 1767, Doctor John Roebuck at Kinneil “ entered into partnership with James Watt at Glasgow, to
verify and carry into practice an improved fire-engine “ invented by the said James Watt. Doctor Roebuck was to “pay a debt of 10001. incurred by the said James Watt in
making the experiments tending to the invention of the
engine, and also to pay the expense of the patent and “ further experiments.
“ James Watt was to attend and conduct the experiments, “and assigned to the Doctor two-thirds of the property of the “ said invention, retaining one-third for his own use.
“ Dr. Roebuck has paid the thousand pounds, but the expense of the other things has been principally paid by “ James Watt.
“ In consideration of the mutual friendship subsisting “ between Dr. Roebuck and myself, and because I think the “ thousand pounds he has paid more than the value of the “property of the two-thirds of the inventions, I hereby take
upon myself all other sums I have laid out or paid upon it, “ also all other debts I have contracted upon that head,
relieving the Doctor from the same, and meaning this as
an absolute discharge for all sums he may have been owing “ me before this date.
« JAMES WATT. Kinneil, May. 17th, 1773."
“Having examined the above narration of facts, I acknow“ ledge the same to be just, and hereby discharge the " account. “ Kinneil, May 17th, 1773."
“ JOHN ROEBUCK. Thus, in the summer of 1773, Mr. Watt found himself at
liberty to remove from Kinneil, where they had long been lying useless, and perishing from long exposure to the injuries of the weather, the iron works, cylinder, and pump, of the condensing engine partly erected there three years before. They were then packed up and sent off to Soho, where a boiler was awaiting them, destined to inspire them with new life and movement; but it was not till after another year that they were followed by Mr. Watt, who had in the interval made his survey for the Caledonian Canal, and had suffered the loss, in which it so dismally terminated, of his much-loved wife.
Early in April, 1774, he writes to Dr. Small, “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;"_and, early in May, “ I have persuaded my friend Dr. Hutton, the famous fossil philosopher, to make " the jaunt with me, and there are some hopes of Dr. Black's “ coming also.” The next four or five months were passed in continuous though still partially futile attempts to construct a satisfactory wheel-engine, and in more successful ones to make the condensing engine do some good work. By the end of October, Mr. Watt was able to send his friend Roebuck such a report of the latter, that Dr. R. replied,* “ You have
now effectually established the justness of the principles on “which your machine is constructed, and the generous and
spirited gentleman you are connected with will never suffer " it to fail for want of exertion to carry it into execution." He was also able to cheer the heart of his aged father, in his lonely home at Greenock, by writing to him, from Birmingham,t “the business I am here about has turned out rather “ successful, that is to say, that 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.”
The comfortable results which led to these improved hopes, had been obtained, it must be recollected, with a cylinder
. 12 November, 1774.
† 11 December, 1774.
made at Carron so far back as 1766, and not very truly bored, although the best which that manufactory could turn out at that time; and Carron had the best boring-mill, for cannon and the cylinders of the old sort of steam-engine, then known. “ It was only intended,” says Mr. Farey, " for
boring cannon; but they bored barrels [of pumps) and “ cylinders [for atmospheric engines] by it occasionally. In " the course of a few years this mill proved too small to “ execute the work which their trade required, and in 1769 “ Mr. Smeaton made them an entire new boring-mill for guns, “ and another for cylinders."
But Mr. Boulton, encouraged by the favourable results already obtained, applied, early in 1775, for a better cylinder, to Mr. John Wilkinson, an eminent iron-founder at Bersham near Chester, who at that very time, probably in consequence of the great demand he saw reason to believe would arise for cylinders bored with exact truth throughout, introduced a new boring-machine which was an infinite improvement on the old one. “ In the old method,” says the same accurate author whom we have last quoted, “the borer for cutting the “ metal was not guided in its progress, and therefore followed “ the incorrect form given to the cylinder in casting it; it
was scarcely insured that every part of the cylinder should “ be circular; and there was no certainty that the cylinder “ would be straight. This method was thought sufficient “ for old engines, but Mr. Watt's engines required greater “ precision.
“ Mr. Wilkinson's machine, which is now the common “ boring-machine, has a straight central bar of great strength, “ which occupies the central axis of the cylinder, during the “ operation of boring; and the borer, or cutting instrument, “ is accurately fitted to slide along this bar, which, being “ made perfectly straight, serves as a sort of ruler, to give a “ rectilinear direction to the borer in its progress, so as to “ produce a cylinder equally straight in the length, and cir“ cular in the circumference. This method insures all the
* Farey, “Treatise on the Steam-engine,' 1827, p. 291.