« AnteriorContinuar »
the train of ideas, nothing appended for shew and supererogation; he will find an uniform dignity displaying itself by constant self-possession and facility, which puts the reader's mind in a state of complacent assurance that the poet is equal to his task, and will not sink under any difficulty, a dignity which is felt rather insensibly and gradually, and every where, than instantaneously, or in any particu
Art. IV.—The Life of Robert Fulton. By his friend Cadwal.
lader D. Colden. Comprising some Account of the Invention, Progress, and Establishment of Steam-Bouts; of Improvements in the Construction and Navigation of Canals, &c. New York. 1817. Large Svo. pp. 371.
may some knowledge of the character of our transatlantic brethren, yet we can honestly assure them that we were not quite prepared for such a sally as this of Cadwallader Colden, Esq. before the Literary and Philosophical Society of New York.'
• We cannot think,' he says, that it will be imputed to an undue partiality if we say that there cannot be found, on the records of departed worth, the name of a person to whose individual exertions mankind are more indebted than they are to the late Robert Fulton.'—p. 2.
No ;-no 'partiality' at all. Our only doubt is whether it will not yet be some time before the paramount claim of this prime of men' to the gratitude of the human race,' be universally acknowledged; since we find in the same volume) the New York Historical Society' contending to raise four or five of his countrymen to a sphere of collateral glory.
• The patron—the inventor, (of steam-boats,) are no more. But the names of Livingstone and Fulton, dear to fame, shall be engraven on a monument sacred to the benefactors of mankind. There generations yet unborn shall read,
GODFREY* taught seamen to interrogate
In triumph proud thro' the loud sounding surge. * This invention is spreading fast in the civilized world; and though
A man of the name of Logan, we think, as obscure as Godfrey himself, claimed for the latter the invention of the Iladley's quadrant !-two years after the description of it bad, as he says, appeared in the Philosophical Transactions.
excluded as yet from Russia, will, ere long, be extended to that vast empire. A bird hatched on the Hudson will soon people the floods of the 'Wolga, and cygnets descended from an American swan glide along the surface of the Caspian sea. Then the hoary genius of Asia, high throned on the peaks of Caucasus, his moist eye glistening while it glances over the ruins of Babylon, Persepolis, Jerusalem, and Palmyra, shall bow with grateful reverence to the inventive spirit of this western world.'-p. 368.
With this genuine burst of native eloquence, (in which the modest simplicity of the prose is so beautifully set off by the fervid wildness of the poetry,) we shall not meddle further than to observe that we are almost malicious enough to wish the ‘daring' Benjamin were alive to see with what little ceremony his admiring countrymen have dove-tailed him in between two worthies, one of whom he has himself designated, in his correspondence, as a most dogmatical, overbearing, and disagreeable fellow, who gave himself airs because he had acquired a smattering of mathematics; the other, a man of very humble claims to genius, possessing just talent enough to apply the inventions of others to his own purposes; and, in such application, not always actuated by the most honourable principles.
Our readers will not expect us to enter into the unimportant history of a man of whom his friend and biographer confesses that he can find nothing material to record, from the first year of his life to the fortieth.--In fact, we should not have called their attention to the work at all, were it not that the character of this country is, in some measure, affected by the disingenuity of the writer. Omitting, therefore, the topics which more immediately interest the people of America, we shall confine the few observations for which we can find leisure, to the two subjects which bring us into contact with Mr. Fulton—torpedos and steam-boats.
After some common-place whining about the freedom of the seas, and the necessity which the United States would be under of
establishing a navy, Mr. Fulton, we are informed, began to turn his whole attention to find out the means of destroying such engines of oppression, as he considered ships of war to be: and out of these enlarged and philanthropic views and reflections (exclaims his biographer) grew Mr. Fulton's inventions for sub-marine navigation and explosions'! There is no disputing about taste : This
philanthropic' gentleman, who speaks with such horror of ships of war, (they are, to be sure, British ships of war,) dwells with the most complacent feelings on the construction and employment of those infernal machines, • against which no human foresight can guard.' They are (be says) useful and honourable amusements, and the most rational source of my bappiness. Mr. Fulton's engine, that was, in bis own words, ' to blow a whole sbip's company into the air,' was called a torpedo or nautilus; it was nothing more than a chest containing a certain quantity of gunpowder, which, by means of some clock machinery, might be ignited at a given time under water, and, being placed under a ship's bottom, destroy her by the explosion. Such an application of gunpowder was no new invention. Before the name of Fulton was ever heard of, the effect of exploding gunpowder under water was well known; and one Bushnell had made several attempts to apply it as the means of hostility during the American revolutionary war-but unsuccessfully. It is, in fact, sometbing like the scheme of children lo catch swallows by applying salt to their tails.
Mr. Fulton offered his invention, first to the French Directory, but they rejected it: then, to the Dutch government, but the Dutch would have nothing to say to him. Meanwhile Buonaparte became First Consul, and Mr. Fulton bastened to address his proposals to that great man: this succinct mode of murder en masse suited his tranchant genius; and accordingly citizens Volney, Monge, and La Place were appointed to examine the plan. The result was, that Mr. Fulton was sent to Brest, under a promise of destroying our blockading squadron, but did nothing; he was then given to understand that the French government had no further occasion for his services; or, to use the words of his biographer, the French ministers shewed a disposition not to fulfil their engagements with Mr. Fulton.'
It may not be amiss to notice a circumstance here which has unluckily escaped the observation of Mr. Cadwallader Colden. Fulton had been treated in this country with unreserved confidence and kindness; he had been permitted to reside at Birmingham for eighteen months; and he had received patents for various pieces of useful machinery. With these in his pocket he hastens to France, where he meets with nothing but contempt and insult; in spite of which he perseveres, with a degree of humility worthy of Joel Barlow himself, to press his services on the French, and beg that he may be graciously allowed to assist in the destruction of England.
* Through the whole season of 1810,' says his delighted biographer, ' did Mr. Fulton watch the English ships off Brest; but though some of them daily approached, yet none came so near as to be exposed to the effect of his attempts. In one instance he came near a British 74, but she changed her position just in time to save herself from being blown into the air.'-p.4.
Finding himself thus slighted in France, and in Holland, he seems at length to have recollected an old intimacy (which commenced on some canal scheme) with the late Lord Stanhope, and contrived to apprize this second Roger Bacon of his formidable invention. Mystery and paradox never failed to throw a spell round
Lord Stanhope. He spoke with awful forebodings, in the House of Lords, of the sub-marine preparations which were to blow the English fleet to atoms, without the possibility of its offering the least resistance of an avatar of Archimedes in the shape of an American engineer, &c.; the result of all which was, if we are to credit Mr. Cadwallader Colden,' a communication from Lord Sidmouth to Mr. Fulton, which had for its object to deprive France of the benefit of his invention and services, (which, be it observed, had been already rejected,) and give England the advantage of them, by inducing him to withdraw from France. Many have thought,' says his biographer, that consistency and morality did not leave Mr. Fulton at liberty to listen to these proposals;' but this only proves that these scrupulous reasoners entered very little into the sublime views which intluenced the conduct of Mr. Fulton-he, good man, was' persuaded that his conduct, on this occasion, if rightly considered, would not only be pronounced excusable, but justitiable, and even meritorious; for he actually hoped that, by England's adopting his infernal machines, she would work out ber own destruction, and thus an end would eventually be put' to that maritime superiority with which they were contending for the dominjon of the eastern world.' Such pure and patriotic motives are more than sufficient to canonize Mr. Fulton in the hearts of his countrymen; and his conscientious and consistent friend Cadwallader might therefore have spared his apology. But such was the advantage' to be conferred on England !
We remember how greatly the late Mr. Pitt and Lord Melville were ridiculed in the opposition journals for the supposed encouragement given to the Catamaran expedition, as the trial of Fulton's machines against the Boulogne flotilla was called. It now appears that it was a legacy left to them by their predecessors in office, and so left as not to be shaken off in a moment; for it is well kuown that, when a projector is once fairly fastened upon a patron, and more especially if that patron be a minister, he clings to him like a leech.
Lord St. Vincent, however, appears to have set his face against this unworthy mode of warfare; feeling, as we believe every British officer would feel, that, setting aside the intent, such devices were for the weak, and not for the strong. Fulton says, I explained to him a torpedo: he reflected for some time, and then said, “ Pitt was the greatest fool that ever existed to encourage a mode of war which they who commanded the seas did not want;" but Mr. Ful ton soon found that Pite' was vo such fool. To satisfy his voisy relation in the House of Lords, he appointed, it is true, a commission to examine Mr. Fulton's projects. It consisted of Sir Joseph Banks, Mr. Cavendish, Sir Home Popham, Major Con, greve, and Mr. John Rennie Friend Cadwallader' complains that many weeks passed before Mr. Fulton could prevail upon them to do any thing, and, finally, that when they met, without calling on him for any explanation, they reported against the marine boat as being impracticable. Now this we know to be false. The commissioners never saw Fulton, never knew any thing of Fulton ;-a packet of sealed papers and drawings were sent to them as coming from a person of the name of Francis, and on these documents alone they delivered, as they were desired to do, and as all who know them personally or by reputation will readily admit they would do, a sound and honest opinion.
We now find that, in the first interview which Mr. Fulton had with Mr. Pitt and Lord Melville, the latter condemned the torpedo without a moment's consideration. In his own mind we dare say he did condemn it, as every man of sense and honour would; but at the same time, out of deference to those who had been instrumental in bringing the proprietor into this country, he did not object to afford him the means of making a harmless experiment on the powers of his machine. He was accordingly allowed to operate on an old Danish brig in Walmer Roads; and, with the assistance of Sir Home Popham and two boats' crews, succeeded, after an unresisted attack of two days, in blowing up this poor old carcass.
It is not true, however, as stated by the author, that Mr. Pitt and Lord Melville entered into any engagement with bim; and therefore • Lord Grenville and his cabinet could not be unwilling to fulfil the engagements wbich their predecessors had made. Indeed, so far from any engagement' on the part of the British government, bis biographer himself says, that when it was proposed that he should, for a considerable reward, suppress his inventions, so that they might be buried, and that neither his own country nor the rest of the world could derive from them those advantages which he thought they would afford, he indignantly rejected the overture.'
The tone of humanity and justice adopted by this vagrant adventurer is quite intolerable. Having failed in selling his infernal machines, first to the French, next to the Dutch, and lastly to the English, he sets himself to prove, in a high stream of moral pathos, that • blowing up ships of war (so as not to leave a man to relate the dreadful catastrophe) are humane experiments! We ought not to wonder, after this, perhaps, that the character of Mr. Fulton has survived in America as that of an honest, conscientious, and consistent man, especially as Mr. Cadwallader Colden has materially supported his claim to it by the gratuitous insertion of two documents; the first, addressed to Lord Melville in 1804, in which, speaking of the tyrannic principles of Buonaparte, who had set himself above all law,' Mr. Fulton adds, he is therefore in that state which Lord