Page images

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

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

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 adding80 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 :

a 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 activitatis, which is but at such a distance. But this

way “ hath no bounder, if the vessels be strong enough; for I so have taken a piece of a whole cannon, whereof the end was ss burst, and filled it three quarters full of water. Stopping “and scruing up the broken end, as also the touchhole, and

making a constant fire under it, within 24 hours it burst " and made a great crack. So that having a way to make

my vessels, so that they are strengthened by the force 6 within them, and the one to fill after the other, I have seen “the water run like a constant fountaine-stream forty foot

high; one vessel of water rarified by fire driveth up forty " of cold water. And a man that tends the work is but to “ turn two cocks, that one vessel of water being consumed, “ another begins to force and re-fill with cold water, and so “successively, the fire being tended and kept constant, which “the selfsame person may likewise abundantly perform in “ the interim between the necessity of turning the said cocks."

" 98. An engine so contrived, that working the primum mobile forward or backward, upward or downward, circularly

or corner-wise, to and fro, streight, upright or downright, " yet the pretended operation continueth, and advanceth[;]

none of the motions above-mentioned, hindering, much less stopping the other; but unanimously and with harmony

agreeing, they all augment and contribute strength unto " the intended work and operation : and therefore I call this a semi-omnipotent engine, and do intend that a model thereof 6 be buried with me.

“ 99. How to make one pound weight to raise an hundred as high as one pound falleth, and yet the hundred pound descending doth what nothing less than one hundred pound

effect. “ 100. Upon so potent a help as these two last mentioned “ inventions, a waterwork is by many years' experience and “ labour so advantageously by me contrived, that a child's “ force bringeth up an hundred foot high an incredible

quantity of water, even two foot diameter, so naturally, “ that the work will not be heard even into the next room; " and with so great ease and geometrical symmetry, that




[ocr errors]

though it work day and night from one end of the year to " the other, it will not require forty shillings reparation to " the whole engine, nor hinder ones day-work. And I may “ boldly call it the most stupendious work in the whole world : “ not onely with little charge to drein all sorts of mines, and * furnish cities with water, though never so high seated, as “ well to keep them sweet, running through several streets, " and so performing the work of scavingers, as well as fur“ nishing the inhabitants with sufficient water for their private “ occasions, but likewise supplying rivers with sufficient to “ maintaine and make them portable from towne to towne, and " for the bettering of lands all the way it runs; with many

more advantageous, and yet greater effects of profit, ad“ miration, and consequence. So that deservedly I deem this “ invention to crown my labours, to reward my expences, “ and make my thoughts acquiesce in way of further “ inventions."

In these extracts are contained the principal reasons for posterity supposing the Marquis to have been acquainted with the power of steam, and able to apply it to some useful purpose. It is true that in the same extraordinary work, if we are to believe its noble author, many great inventions of more modern days, as well as some which still lie hid in the future, were antieipated. Within the compass of a few very small duodecimo pages, the Marquis enumerates “A way how to “ make a Boat work itself against Wind and Tide, yea, both “ without the help of man or beast;”—“How to make a “ Pistol to discharge a dozen times with one loading, and

without so much as once new Priming requisite;”—“How

to make a man to fly; which I have tried with a little Boy “ of ten years old in a barn, from one end to the other, on

an Hay-mow;"—"A Watch to go constantly, and yet needs

no other winding from the first setting on the Cord or “ Chain, unless it be broken;" —“ An Engine whereby one

man may take out of the water a Ship of 500 Tun, so that “ it may be calked, trimmed and repaired without need of “ the usual way of stocks, and as easily let down again;"“ An Instrument whereby an ignorant person may take any

[ocr errors]




“ thing in Perspective, as justly, and more than the skilfullest “Painter can do by his eye;" &c. &c. &c.

All of these, and of the ninety other articles of which the Century' is made up, wanted only one condition to be complied with by their author, to satisfy the world that they were not the mere idle dreams of a mechanical visionary, or the impudent boasts of a pseudo-scientific braggart.. But that condition is certainly an important one; viz. that he should have executed all, or at least some of the more important of the various machines which he thus describes. And on this point, in the case of the Marquis, there is unfortunately considerable room for doubt; although the little Century' closes with an account of his " meaning to leave to

Posterity a Book, wherein under each of these Heads the “ means to put in execution and visible trial all and every “ of these Inventions, with the shape and form of all things

belonging to them, shall be printed by Brass-plates.” This was published in 1663, and the Marquis lived for four years afterwards ; but, as the promised work never appeared, it is perhaps not very unfair to suppose, as some authors have done, that he either was unable, or never seriously intended, to make such a further publication.

Still it is but just towards his memory to mention some circumstances, which, at least in so far as the “water“ commanding engine" is concerned, seem to afford grounds for supposing that, whatever might be the true nature of the power by which it acted, or of the effects which it was able to produce, such an engine was actually constructed and set to work.

On the 16th of March, 1663,—the same year in which, as already stated, appeared the Century of Inventions,'—a Bill was brought into Parliament "to enable Edward Marquess “ of Worcester to receive the benefit and profit of a water“ commanding engine by him invented; one tenth part “ whereof is appropriated for the benefit of the King's “ Majesty, his heirs and successors,” during a term of ninetynine years; and this Bill was passed into an Act on the 3rd of June following, not, as Lord Orford erroneously supposed,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »