Page images





As we are now arrived at that important epoch of Mr. Watt's life when he made the first, the greatest, and the most prolific of all his inventions connected with the steam-engine, it is necessary that we should give some explanation of the state in which he found that machine, as then employed in imperfectly draining some collieries and mines in Great Britain, although not otherwise made available in either this or any other country. Without a brief historical sketch such as this renders necessary, many of our readers might find it difficult to follow the steps by which Mr. Watt ascended in his successive inventions, to understand their importance, or to appreciate their beauty; and we venture to believe that it is possible to communicate all that is on the present occasion needful to be known on this part of our subject, without perplexing our narrative by details either very numerous, or at all obscure.

The earliest instance of a machine in which steam was deliberately used to generate motion, is, it seems to be generally admitted, the Æolipile,-Æoli-pila, or ball of Æolus,—such as is delineated and described by Hero of Alexandria, in his Pneumatica, or Spiritalia,* about 120 B.C. This æolipile was a hollow ball of metal, moveable on external axes working in sockets, and fitted with one or more tubes issuing from it horizontally, closed at their ends, but with an opening in

* A curious treatise, which, along in the Mathematici Veteres,' Gr. et with his other works, is to be found Lat., Par. 1693, fol.


their sides. This ball being partially filled with water, and placed over a fire, the re-action of the steam, rushing with violence from those openings, caused it to revolve with more or less rapidity according to the force of steam employed. The machine has been constructed of several forms, and has often served purposes of ingenious amusement. In point of practical utility, it is recommended by Branca, in his work entitled “Le Machine,' published at Rome in 1629, to be used to produce a rotatory motion, by acting on the pinions of a wheel. It has also been employed instead of bellows, directing a strong current of steam on the fire, in place of a blast of air. Sir Hugh Plat, at p. 23 of his "Jewel House of · Art and Nature,' (printed at London in 1653), gives a particular description of one which he calls “A round ball of

copper or Latten, that will blow the fire very strongly, onely by the attenuation of water into air; which device

also serve to perfume with ;” and he annexes a woodcut of it.

But the most singular details as to an instrument of this sort with which we have met, are given in the following passage, taken from Plot's Staffordshire :—“Yet there are many “old customs in use within memory, of whose originals I “could find no tolerable account, that possibly might com

mence as high as these times; such as the service due from " the Lord of Essington in this county [Stafford] to the Lord " of Hilton, about a mile distant, viz, that the Lord of the

manor of Essington shall bring a goose every New-year's

day, and drive it round the fire in the hall at Hilton, at “ least three times, (which he is bound to doe as mean lord), “ whilst Jack of Hilton is blowing the fire. Now, Jack of Hilton is a little hollow image of brass of about 12 inches

high, kneeling upon his left knee, and holding his right “ hand upon

his head, having a little hole in the place “ of the mouth, about the bigness of a great pin's head, and “ another in the back about of an inch diameter, at which “ last hole it is fill’d with water, it holding about 4 pints " and }, which, when set to a strong fire, evaporates after “ the same manner as in an æolipile, and vents it self at the

[ocr errors]


"smaller hole at the mouth in a constant blast, blowing the “ fire so strongly that it is very audible, and makes a sensible

impression in that part of the fire where the blast lights, as “ I found by experience, May the 26th, 1680.” *

A story is told by Agathias, in his history of Justinian, of a trick played by Anthemius, the famous architect of the church—now the mosque—of St. Sophia at Constantinople, which, amidst all the vagueness and probably ignorance of the historian, seems to indicate some knowledge, on the part of its contriver, of the forcible effects of steam. Anthemius and Zeno the rhetorician occupied contiguous houses; and in a dispute about their walls or windows, the learning of the mathematician was defeated by the eloquence of the orator. In revenge, Anthemius betook himself to the practice of such arts of annoyance as his knowledge of science could suggest; and among other devices, more ingenious than hurtful, by which he sought to disturb the qniet of his neighbour, was one thus recorded by Gibbon :—“In a lower room, “ Anthemius arranged several vessels or cauldrons of water, “ each of them covered by the wide bottom of a leathern tube, “which rose to a narrow top, and was artificially conveyed

among the joists and rafters of the adjacent building. A “ fire was kindled beneath the cauldron; the steam of the " boiling water ascended through the tubes; the house was “ shaken by the efforts of imprisoned air, and its trembling “ inhabitants might wonder that the city was unconscious of “ the earthquake which they had felt!” +

William of Malmesbury describes as being preserved in the Cathedral of Rheims, among other proofs of the mechanica skill of Gerbert, (afterwards Pope Sylvester II., who died A.D. 1003), a hydraulic organ, blown “ by the violence of boiling "water.”

Natural History of Staffordshire, ' by Robert Plot, LL.D.,' p. 433, edit. Oxford, 1686. At plate xxxiii. of that work there is an engraved likeness of Jack, to which we refer those of our readers who are curious in such matters.

t Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' ch. xl. 1 Willielm. Malmesbur. de gestis Regum Anglorum,' Lib. ii.; inter Rer. Anglic. Script. ed. Lond. 1596, fol. 36, verso.


Baptista Porta, a Neapolitan gentleman who devoted his life to researches in chemistry and natural philosophy, in which he displayed remarkable ingenuity, and distinguished himself by inventing the magic lantern, has left us an account, in a work published in 1601,* of some curious experiments on the power of steam, on its condensation, and on its relative bulk as compared with water. In one of them, a vacuum is distinctly formed, and water is forced up into it by the pressure of the atmosphere ; although this appears, both from his description and from the rude wood-cut which accompanies it, to have been performed on the scale not of any large engine for raising water, but only of a small philosophical apparatus. And his words perhaps rather apply to the expansion of air by heat, and its contraction by cold, than to the production and condensation of steam, In another experiment, a retort has its neck inserted in a cistern which is nearly filled with water; the water in the retort is then made to boil, and the steam, pressing on the water in the cistern, forces it up through a tube fixed in its lid.

David Rivault, Seigneur de Flurance, near Laval, in France, in a treatise on the Elements of Artillery, which he published in 1605, and of which a second edition, containing an additional fourth book, appeared in 1608,t describes the power of steam in bursting a strong bomb-shell, partly filled with water, then tightly plugged, and set on a fire. But here, with a power of very great destructiveness, there is evidently a total want of any means of moderating, or almost of estimating, that dangerous force. On behalf of M. Rivault, accordingly, our neighbours on the other side of the Channel who cannot in general be accused of understating the rights which they may suppose their country to possess to any share in the progressive invention of the steam-engine,--prefer no

* • Pneumaticorum libri tres : cum • duobus curvilineorum elementorum', (printed at Naples), 4to. It was translated into Italian, and published, also at Naples, with the title I tre • libri de' Spiritali,' 1606, 4to.

+ The title of his book is 'Les Ele.

mens de l'Artillerie, concernans tant • la premiere inuention et theorie,

que la practique du Canon. Par • le Sieur de Flurance Rivavlt. A Paris, chez Adrian Beys, ruë Sainct Jacques, ioignant la Rosse Blanche, • M.DC.V.'

claim. This they reserve for two others of their countrymen, Solomon De Caus and Denys Papin, who also flourished in the seventeenth century, the one in its beginning, and the other at its close ; of each of whom, and their respective inventions or discoveries, we shall treat in due chronological order.

The contrivance described and figured by Solomon De Caus is as follows :-Take a strong hollow copper globe, with a cock near the top to admit water, and through the middle of the top a pipe fixed, with its lower end reaching nearly to the bottom of the globe, without quite touching it; fill the globe with water through the cock, close it firmly, (the pipe, however, remaining open), and put it on the fire; then the heat, acting upon the globe, will make all the water ascend through the pipe.

The merit of such a toy, which is little more than a variation of the apparatus already described by Porta, it might be rather difficult to estimate. We are very willing that it should have all the benefit of the rhetorical talent of the most able of its panegyrists, the late M. Arago, who says:-“The

apparatus of Solomon De Caus, that metal shell in which "a moving power almost indefinitely great is generated by “ means of a faggot and a match, will always make a noble “ figure in the annals of the steam-engine." Still we cannot but remember that for all purposes of practical utility it has proved to be valueless; and that if, instead of " in the annals “ of the steam-engine,” M. Arago had said, “in annals pre“ vious to those of the steam-engine,” he would more exactly have described the period to which a contrivance at once so simple, so harmless, and—we must be pardoned for addingso useless, properly belongs.

The name next in the series of early “students of steam,” is that of Edward, second Marquis of Worcester; in whose Century of Inventions' first published in 1663, occur the following curious articles :

« 68. An admirable and most forcible way to drive up “ water by fire, not by drawing or sucking it upwards, for " that must be, as the philosopher calleth it, Intra sphaeram


« PreviousContinue »