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“ such as I made when I heard of Mr. Watt's contrivance. “ It is mentioned as a thing which the Reviewers had forgot“ ten in its proper time, and they say, 'dudum fabricavit.' I “ mentioned this about a year ago to Dr. Black, when we
were speaking of some curious observations of M. Wilcke “ on the cloud which appears in the receiver of an air-pump “when damp air is suddenly rarefied. The Doctor told me, " that when he was yet in Glasgow, he had a pupil of the " name of Williams, or Williamson, from the Mine College in “ Sweden; that this person was intimately acquainted in “ Dr. Roebuck's family, and, he believed, also with Mr. “ Watt; that he was in this country almost three years, and “ fully understood all his theory; and he had no doubt that “ Dr. Wilcke owed to him all that he had published on that
subject. He thought it equally probable that this project “ of an air-pump had transpired in some of our conversations, “ it being a thing on which we put no value.”
The following is evidently the notice intended to be referred to by Dr. Robison, which we here translate from the Latin, in which language it is printed in the Transactions of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Sweden :
“ 3. John Charles Wilke, Lecturer on Experimental Phi“ losophy, proposes a new kind of air-pump. He makes use “ of the well-known property which the steam of boiling “water possesses, of so expanding itself, as to drive out the “air from any space which it fills. Instead, therefore, of " that cylinder, in which, in common pumps, the sucker “ moves, he takes a metallic vessel, into which, by means of
a tube, the steam of water, boiling over a fire, can ascend ;
by another aperture, the air contained in the vessel (which “ he calls a receiver) retires before the steam. The receiver “ “ is joined to a globe, on which a glass bell may be placed,
as in common [air-]pumps; and those three apertures of “ the receiver, by which the steam enters, the air escapes, and “ the globe is connected with it, may be closed by valves or “ cocks. The last of them, up to this point, is kept shut. “ When the steam, ascending into the receiver, has suffi
ciently expelled the air, the cock by which the air had “ escaped is closed, and the receiver is surrounded with cold “ water. The steam, thus condensed, returns, in the form of “ drops, to the vessel whence it came; and the cock which, “ when open, had permitted it to rise, being now closed, a “ vacuum, to a great extent, is formed in the receiver. Then “ the cock by which it is joined to the globe, being opened, “ air will rush into it from the bell. This kind of exhaustion
may be repeated, till there remains under the bell [no “ more than a one hundred and thirtieth portion of the air, " in the machine with which Mr. Wilke made his experiment, “and which was by no means so perfect as it might be made “by greater care. Even common air-pumps, as improved by “ Nollet, rarefy air about 300 times ; (Wilke takes no notice “ of John Smeaton's pump, mentioned in the ‘Philosophical
• Transactions,' vol. xlvii. Art. 69, by which air is said to be “ rarefied 500 or even 1000 times); so that this one, a little “ better made, will easily equal their performance ; but its “ principle is, that it will exhaust the air suddenly, not, as “ the common ones do, by degrees: (Nollet and others “ showed how a large receiver could be first emptied of air, “and applied to the bell, so as to let the air from the “ latter suddenly rush into it). •But,' it is added, “as it “ ' needs fire and water, its use is attended with some incon6.veniences.'
Dr. Robison is not quite accurate in saying that the whole of the ‘Commentarii' are of a date posterior to 1769. The work was published in a series of thirty-seven volumes, commencing in 1752, and ending in 1806; with three volumes of Supplementa,' 1763-96, and three of Indices, 1770-1793. But it is certain that the passage quoted above is of a date several years subsequent to Mr. Watt's invention of the separate condenser; and the circumstances through which it happened that Mr. Wilcke was even so early in possession of the idea of an air-pump such as that described, are, no doubt, very well explained by Dr. Robison,
* • Kongl. Vetenskaps Academiens mestre primum), printed in the Com· Handlingar för Aor 1769,' vol. xxx. * mentarii de Rebus in Scientiâ &c.: i.e., Acta Academiæ Reg. Sc.
• Naturali et Medicinâ gestis,' vo-, Suecicæ, anni 1769, vol. xxx. (Tri- luminis xviii. pars I. Lipsiæ, 1772.
Although our readers may probably be of opinion that it scarcely requires such notice, we may here advert to a story told in a recent Life of Gainsborough the artist,* concerning his brother Humphry. This genius was the brother, not only of the celebrated painter, but also of a certain "scheming “ Jack," noted for the mechanical delusions by which he was influenced, including the usual one of flying in the air on artificial wings; which he attempted to practise somewhat after the manner of the mechanist in Rasselas, and with a similar result; but with the top of a summer-house for his promontory, and a ditch for his lake, "out of which he was drawn amidst “shouts of laughter, half-dead with fright and vexation.”
Humphry was largely endowed with the family fancy for “ scheming," and the inventiveness of his mind was extolled by Mr. Edgeworth. He is said by Mr. Fulcher to have “ settled as a dissenting minister at Henley-upon-Thames ;" although it appears from a letter in the same volume, that his business was that “of collecting the tolls upon the river." In this arrangement it is satisfactory to learn that the Rev. gentleman's "mechanical contrivances were the employments “ of his leisure hours, and were never suffered to interfere “ with his sacred duties."
This being premised, “We may mention,” says Mr. Fulcher, “ that his experiments upon the steam-engine were far “ in advance of his time. Indeed, it was stated by his family “ and friends, that Watt owed to him one of his great and “ fundamental improvements, that of condensing the steam “ in a separate vessel. Certain it is, that Mr. Gainsborough “ had constructed a working-model of a steam-engine, to “ which his discoveries were applied, and that a stranger,
evidently well acquainted with mechanics, and supposed to “ be connected with Watt as an engineer, was on a visit at
Henley, and called upon him, to whom he unsuspectingly
* Life of Thomas Gainsborough, .R.A., by the late George Williams
• Fulcher. Edited by his Son.' London. 1856.
“ showed his model and explained its novelties. His rela“tives have assured the Author that such was the fact, and " that the circumstance of having thus lost the credit of his
discovery, made a deep and melancholy impression upon “ his mind. The truth of this statement receives also strong “ corroboration from the remarks of Thicknesse, who says, “ • Mr. Gainsborough' (the painter) 'gave me, after the death “ of his clergyman brother, the model of his steam-engine: " that engine alone would have furnished a fortune to all “the Gainsboroughs and their descendants, had not that
unsuspicious, good-hearted man, let a cunning, designing “artist see it, and who surreptitiously carried it off in his « « mind's eye.' Watt obtained his first patent for perform“ ing condensation in a separate vessel from the cylinder, in « 1769; it was renewed in 1775. Humphry Gainsborough 6 died in 1776." · Such is the tale told by Mr. Fulcher, as if in the hope of persuading his readers that Mr. Humphry Gainsborough had anticipated James Watt in one of his grandest inventions for the improvement of the steam-engine ;-nay, that James Watt, not only the greatest mechanical inventor that ever lived, but “ the most scrupulous of men where the inven" tions of others were concerned,” had actually palmed off upon the world as his own-had obtained a patent, and a further extension of that patent by Act of Parliament, for an invention previously made, and known to him to have been made, by the dissenting minister and toll-collector of Henley-upon-Thames! Yet, when we look for the evidence on which such a charge is made, what do we find? The nature of the “experiments upon the steam-engine" alleged to have been made, or of the “discoveries” stated to have been applied to the working model, is not in a single instance specified ;-of the “family, friends, and relations,” spoken of as upholding the credit of the tale, not one individual is named ;—of the mysterious “stranger” himself, “ evidently “ well acquainted with mechanics,” stat nominis umbra ;-and
* Fulcher, pp. 18, 19.
“connection with Watt as an engineer" was, it seems, only “supposed” to exist !
As for the Thicknesse, whose remarks are introduced as a “ strong corroboration” of the whole, he “published,” says Mr. Fulcher, “ a brief memoir, written in one day, of which “ we need not say more here," he continues, " than that it
deservedly enjoyed a fame of equal duration.” Of the same person's autobiography, Mr. Fulcher adds that therein “his “spites, his bickerings, his disappointments, the ill-natured
things he did, the mistakes he made, the worth he insulted, are recorded with a minuteness which his most malignant enemy might have envied." Yet Mr. Thicknesse is the herald selected for that engine which “ alone would have “ furnished a fortune for all the Gainsboroughs and their “ descendants ;"—a fitting Daniel come to judgment on the “cunning, designing artist,” whom the “unsuspicious, good“ hearted man allowed to see it, and “surreptitiously to “carry it off in his mind's eye.”
But, fortunately, Mr. Fulcher's story is not original with him; nor is a test of its truth now to be applied to it for the first time.
Jabez Hornblower, who, after having been long employed as a stoker in Messrs. Boulton and Watt's manufactory at Soho, was, in the end of the last century, convicted of gross piracy of Mr. Watt's invention, employed a portion of the leisure which fell to his lot in the King's Bench Prison in writing a first edition of the same fable, which was published in Gregory's Mechanics. Mr. Hornblower, however, with less caution than Mr. Fulcher, did not altogether evade the mention of any name or detail to authenticate his tale; but appealed, in proof of it, to a conversation said to have been held with Mr. Samuel More, the very respectable Secretary to the Society of Arts.
Now, in the trial of the cause, Boulton and Watt v. Bull, in the Common Pleas, 22nd June, 1793, Mr. More was, it happens, examined as a witness. He was asked, “ You must “ have seen and known a vast number of machines of various “ kinds ;-Did you ever meet with the application of those