Page images




At this critical turning-point of his life, Mr. Watt had rather a narrow escape from expatriation, and this country from losing all the benefit of his unrivalled career of invention. In 1773 he had received an invitation from his friend Robison to come to Russia, “ where he had recommended him to fill

some station.” But in the spring of 1775 an offer was made to him of employment in Russia, under the Imperial Government, which, at a somewhat earlier period, might probably have met with his thankful acceptance; for the salary promised was 10001. per annum, and the duties required would have suited well his own inclinations and acquirements. The offer of the appointment in question, however, seems to have been ensured by, if it did not originate in, Mr. Boulton

having sounded his praises at the Ambassador's;" and he naturally preferred continuing, with him, those endeavours for a parliamentary prolongation of his first patent, on which their future association was to depend. “ Your going to “ Russia,” says Mr. Boulton, “ staggers me. The precarious

ness of your health, the dangers of so long a journey or voyage,

and my own deprivation of consolation, render me a little uncomfortable ; but I wish to assist and advise you “ for the best, without regard to self;" and again, “I shall “ rejoice at every good that befalls you; yet, nevertheless, I “ find I love myself so well that I should be sorry to have

you go to Russia, and I begin to repent sounding your

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"trumpet at the Ambassador's." “Lord, how frightened I “ was," writes the genial and hearty Darwin, “when I heard “ a Russian bear* had laid hold of you with his great paw, " and was dragging you to Russia! Pray don't go if you can help it. Russia is like the den of Cacus: you see the foot

steps of many beasts going thither, but of few returning. I " hope your fire-engines will keep you here."

The case also of a Captain Perry, (who, after having been engaged by Peter the Great as an engineer, and having served for many years in that country, had been obliged to take refuge in the house of the British Ambassador, and to return to England without receiving his pay), as well as representations of other similar instances, alarmed Mr. Watt for the consequences which might possibly again attend such despotic predilections; and recommended to his mind the less dazzling, but more secure destiny, of “a crust of bread and liberty.” The Imperial family of Russia were then much interested in the various manufactures carried on at Soho, and greatly admired their products. In February, 1776, the Empress stayed for some time at Mr. Boulton's house; "and a charm"ing woman she is," writes her hospitable entertainer.

It is rather a singular circumstance, that when, in 1816, his Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, (the late Czar), applied at the Soho works for permission to view their interior, his application, although supported by a letter from Lord Sidmouth, was rejected. The objection felt, however, was not by any means to the potentate himself or bis immediate friends, but to certain persons who followed in his suite, and whom there were good reasons for not initiating into the various processes of the manufacture.

Mr. Watt's labours at Soho soon began to manifest the great advantages which that establishment afforded in respect of materials, workmanship, and business connections. Fortunately, the completion of the reciprocating or condensing engine was not made to wait for that of the more troublesome

# “ Which made old Ben and surly Dennis swear,
“ No Lord's anointed, but a Russian bear!"
Pope's Imit. of Hor., B. ii. Ep. i., 1. 388.


and uncertain wheel-engine; but was at once proceeded with, under “the master's eye” and care. A cast-iron cylinder, over 18 inches in diameter, an inch thick, and weighing half a ton, but which seemed “ tolerably true," " not perfect, but “ without any very gross error," was procured from Mr. Wilkinson, and the piston, to diminish friction and the consequent wear of metal, girt with a brass hoop two inches broad: and although when first tried, “the engine goes marvellously bad ; “ it made eight strokes per minute; but, upon Joseph's “ endeavouring to mend it, it stood still;" and that, too, though the piston was helped with all the appliances of “ hat,” papier maché, grease, black-lead powder, a bottle of oil “ to drain through the hat and lubricate the sides," and an iron weight above all to prevent the piston leaving the papier behind in its stroke,-yet, after some imperfections of the valves were remedied, “the engine makes 500 strokes “ with about two cwt. of coals ;” and, in another month or two, with better condensation, it "makes 2000 strokes with "one cwt. of coals;” no bad work for such a machine, as yet but in its childhood. “The copper bottom for Bloomfield “ engine is come," at the same time writes Mr. Boulton, “ and Mr. Hurst promises to forward the others directly. “ The new forging-shop looks very formidable; the roof is

nearly put on, and the hearths are both built. The two 6 small 7-inch

pumps for our own condenser are this day “ arrived; but we can't bore them until we have got a block “ cast for fixing the boring-knives in, which I shall hasten.” And, within six months, there comes this order :-“Pray tell “ Mr. Wilkinson to get a dozen of cylinders cast and bored, “ from 12 to 50 inches diameter, and as many condensers of “ suitable sizes; the latter must be sent here, as we will keep “them ready fitted up, and then an engine can be turned out “ of hand in two or three weeks. I have fixed my mind upon

making from twelve to fifteen reciprocating, and fifty rota“tive engines per annum."

It was about this time,-viz. in 1776,—that Boswell, being with Dr. Johnson at Birmingham, paid a visit to Soho, of which he has left the following account :-“ Mr. Hector was

so good as to accompany me to see the great works of Mr. " Boulton, at a place which he has called Soho, about two " miles from Birmingham, which the very ingenious proprie" tor showed me himself to the best advantage. I wished “ Johnson had been with us; for it was a scene which I "should have been glad to contemplate by his light. The “ vastness and the contrivance of some of the machinery would * have matched his mighty mind.' I shall never forget Mr. “ Boulton's expression to me, 'I sell here, Sir, what all the " world desires to have,-POWER.' He had about seven * hundred people at work. I contemplated him as an iron

chieftain, and he seemed to be a father to his tribe. One " of them came to him, complaining grievously of his land" lord for having distrained his goods. "Your landlord is in ". the right, Smith,' said Boulton. "But I'll tell you what: " find you a friend who will lay down one half of your rent, “ 6 and I'll lay down the other half; and you shall have your 'goods again.

The new engines beginning now to be disseminated over many parts of England, and giving entire satisfaction to all who availed themselves of the invention, began to attract notice on the other side of the Channel. Within a couple of years after the passing of the Act of Parliament of 1775, negotiations were set on foot by MM. Perrier for using Mr. Watt's steam-engines to supply Paris with water; and, in 1778, the King of France, by a decree, granted to Messrs. Boulton and Watt an exclusive privilege to make and sell their engines in that country. This decree, according to the French patent law at that time, could not have the force of a patent till an engine had actually been subjected to the judgment of certain Commissioners appointed by the decree, and had been reported by them to be superior to the common engines. The trial engine, it was agreed, should be erected


The attraction which detained clergyman's widow; "a genteel woJohnson from accompanying his friend man, very agreeable and well bred," on this occasion, was the

society of though then advanced in years; with his first love, (the sister of their bost, whom Boswell on his return found Mr. Hector), then Mrs. Careless, á the great lexicographer at tea.

at the colliery of a M. Jary, near Nantes in Brittany; M. Jary, who was a very ingenious man, himself undertaking nearly the whole care of the erection.

Early in 1779, Perrier visited Soho,“ bargained on very “ moderate terms” for engines, and drawings for one were sent to Jary by Mr. Watt, to be executed, it would appear, in France. Finding, in May, 1780, that the MM. Perrier were to erect three fire-engines, "whereof one according to our “plan, and the two others with changements qu'il avoit

imaginé,' if we mean to keep this our kingdom of France “ in proper subjection,” wrote Mr. Watt, “it will be necessary " that one of ourselves go over there soon.”

How far MM. Perrier showed off to advantage the engine of English design and French construction, appears from the report of M. De Luc, “who was present at Paris when Perrier “ called the Royal Academy to view the engine set out, when, “ lo! it went two long strokes per minute; which he said was

owing to the want of the steam-case, which in haste he had “ omitted. This being afterwards added, the engine wrought “ at the rate of four strokes per minute, and he (De Luc)

never saw it go any faster.”* This was rather a contrast to the rate at which the Soho engines moved in their own country; and perhaps M. Perrier prevailed on the two others, “ with variations which he had imagined,” to mind their business with more alacrity. But when Mr. Watt and Mr. Boulton visited Paris, “ We have also vindicated," writes Mr. Watt,t “the honour we were robbed of by M. Perrier's as

suming the merit of my invention; he said our coming was un coup

de soufflet diabolique pour lui. He has succeeded, “ however, in having erected a most magnificent and commo“ dious manufactory for steam-engines, where he executes all “ the parts most exceedingly well. He is a man of abilities, “ and would be very estimable if he were a little more just, " (or more honest).” And, in 1790, he again writes, f I have “ a letter from Mr. Levêque of July 4th. He has seen Per

[ocr errors]

* Mr. Watt to Mr. Boulton, 29 October, 1782. + To Dr. Roebuck, 3 February, 1787. # To Mr. Boulton, 23 July, 1790.

« PreviousContinue »