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ants under the patent were resisted, as well as of the amount of erudition by which that resistance was audaciously supported. It was certainly unfortunate for the reputation of Bramah, -a self-taught inventor of great mechanical ingenuity,that he should have been led, by whatever motive, into systematic and grudging opposition, (which was also, happily, unsuccessful), to the grand and prolific discoveries of Watt.
In our own day, this doctrine of Bramah appears in this country to have had one, and, so far as we know, but one follower In a work on the steam-engine by Mr. Thomas Tredgold, printed in 1827, we find the following passage :“ The fortunate idea of condensing in a separate vessel, which “ in Watt’s engine is the only essential part in saving of fuel
beyond what Smeaton had accomplished, would undoubtedly “ in a short time have occurred to some other person ; and mines “must have been drained at a more economical rate, long “ before that monopoly ceased.” This observation is accompanied by the further reflection, that “monopoly should never “ be renewed, except so that any other person may, at a fair “ and at a fixed rate of licence, join in it." Without too critically inquiring how far that can be called a monopoly, in which any other person may join,—whether, had Watt not lived, the celestial afflatus of invention“ would undoubtedly” have descended upon, e.g., Mr. Thomas Tredgold, or “ some “other person,”—or whether, if the objection is intelligible at all, it does not apply to all grants of patents, quite as much as to any renewals of them,—we need merely remark that in the case of Boulton and Watt's extension of patent, “ any other person” was allowed to exercise the invention at a fair rate of licence; which was usually, with great moderation, fixed at only one-third of the savings of fuel which the improved engine in each instance effected. The only exceptions to that rule were in cases where the engine worked less than twelve hours a day, or where coals were cheaper than four shillings a ton.
It was in the vexation caused by the multifarious piracies, of which Bramah's was one, that Mr. Watt was tempted, “in “ the anguish of his mind," almost to “curse his inven
“ tions;"—to declare that “there is nothing more foolish than “ inventing ;"--and that “nine-tenths of mankind are knaves, " and a large proportion of the remaining one-tenth, fools.” From an equally temporary cause alone, let us hope, also proceeded his evil opinion of some of the gentlemen belonging to a certain branch of the legal profession, whom he called " the anthropophagi of London ;” and of whom he said, that “ if all the counties in England would join in petitioning Par“ liament to make it high treason for any of the tribe to be “ found in the realm, it would be the wisest thing they ever “ did!”. In the “ Painted Chamber," then used as a sort of political lumber-room, into which those who had no very pressing Parliamentary business in hand were used to stray, and pick up fragments of news, Mr. Watt once introduced two gentlemen to each other, observing to them,—“ You, Mr. “W- -, attend to the management of my legal affairs in " the city, and you, Mr. D-, in the country. I am a poor "pigeon, gentlemen; and I only hope that in plucking me “ you will not quarrel over it !”
The verdict of the jury, on occasion of both of the trials, having gone with the stream of testimony which flowed so overwhelmingly in favour of the patentees, the judgment of the Court finally established the legal validity of the letters patent, and effectually vindicated the justice of all the claims that Boulton and Watt had made. That decision has always been viewed as one of great importance to the law of patents in this kingdom, and was, of course, productive of momentous consequences in a pecuniary point of view to the patentees; as, besides heavy damages and costs being recovered from the actual defendants, the remainder of the horde of delinquents were thereby, at last, awed into subjection, and compelled to disgorge a large portion of their illegal gains. In judgment on the vanquished, however, mercy was not forgotten by the victors; and the terms of settlement insisted on were, it is believed, generally satisfactory to all parties. Mr. Watt used, long afterwards, to call the specifications his old and welltried friends.
* To Mr. Boulton, 12 April, 1780.
TERMINATION OF THE PATENT-PRIVILEGE OF 1769 AND 1775 — AND OF
THE ORIGINAL PARTNERSHIP OF BOULTON AND WATT — CONTINUANCE AND INCREASE OF THEIR STEAM-ENGINE BUSINESS - ATTEMPTED ROBBERY ASSISTANTS AT SOHO - WILLIAM MURDOCK, HIS LIFE, SERVICES, AND INVENTIONS — MR. WATT IN HIS OLD AGE — PNEUMATIO MEDICINES — FOUNDATION OF PRIZE IN GLASGOW COLLEGE LIBRARY AT GREENOCK - CHARITABLE ACTS.
With the year 1800 came the expiration of the privilege of the patent of 1769, as extended by the statute of 1775; and also the dissolution of the original copartnership of Messrs. Boulton and Watt, of five-and-twenty years' duration; a term which had been fixed with a prospective reference to the duration of the privilege, and which, having at its commencement found the partners active and strong, left them, at its close, far advanced on the toilsome journey of life, and disposed to resign the cares and fatigues of business to other and younger hands. Those two friendly associates, who might well be termed the fathers of the modern steam-engine, did not, therefore, in their own persons renew the contract which they had in earlier and more eventful times so strenuously, so successfully, and so happily fulfilled. But their respective shares in the concern were readily adopted, as the basis of a new contract, by their sons, Messrs. James Watt, jun., Matthew Robinson Boulton, and Gregory Watt; all distinguished by great talents, and already to a considerable extent initiated in the conduct of the business, by those valuable instructions which the experience of their fathers had so well enabled them to give; as well as by having held, from 1794, some individual interest in the property of the copartnership
The new partners then entered on a course of enterprising management, from which one of their number, Gregory Watt, was too soon removed by his premature death in 1804. This lamented person, having never felt much interest in the dry details of business, had been by the kindness of his elder brother, James, in great measure relieved from them, and enabled to devote his mind solely to those higher pursuits of science and literature in which he found delight; retaining at the same time the independent circumstances and command of leisure which his share of the profits from the steam-engine manufactory enabled him to enjoy. In the case of the other two gentlemen, the business connection endured without any material alteration for a period of no fewer than forty years. And it is a remarkable fact, demonstrative alike of the continual advance in the development of the various resources of this country, and of the energetic ability with which the affairs of the Soho manufactory were conducted, that notwithstanding the cessation of the exclusive privilege, and the immense competition in the construction of steam-engines which speedily followed, so far was the business of Boulton and Watt from diminishing, that it continually increased, and became greatly more profitable than it ever had been in the days of its original founders. Even after all of his manifold improvements had been secured by patent, and were in course of execution in the various engines turned out from the Soho manufactory, Mr. Watt had made a very moderate estimate of the remunerative nature of the business ;—for although in the summer of 1782 he mentioned that the clear income realised by it was 30001. per annum, and might be 50001., he at the same time added that it might be less, or nothing; depending on how far Mr. Boulton and he might be able to defeat their opponents. “ From the many opponents we are like to have," he also wrote to Mr. Boulton,* “I fear that the engine business
cannot be a permanent one; and I am sure it will not in “ any case prove so lucrative as you have flattered yourself :" -and“ I will stick by the engine business while it sticks to “ me; but we have got so many pretenders now, that I fear “ they will make us little people. If so, let them.”* “I do “ not think that we are safe a day to an end in this enter
* 20th February, 1782.
prising age. One's thoughts seem to be stolen before one “speaks them. It looks as if Nature had taken an aversion “ to monopolies, and put the same thing into several people's “ heads at once, to prevent them; and I begin to fear,”—he very unreasonably went on to say,—“that she has given over “ inspiring me, as it is with the utmost difficulty I can hatch “ anything new.” +
But, towards the close of the last century, and on the favourable termination of the long law-suits, the business became so profitable as fully to satisfy the moderate desires of Mr. Watt; and, by providing an obvious source of independent income for his sons, it removed the fears which had often pressed heavily on his mind, that he might possibly outlive its success.
At the very beginning of the century, viz. on Christmas eve, 1800, a great robbery was attempted at Mr. Boulton's silver-plate manufactory; a building which adjoined the engine-yards and workshops, and was at no great distance from his mansion-house. The following account of this affair appeared in the Birmingham newspapers at the time :—“On “ Tuesday night last, a most daring robbery was attempted to “ be perpetrated at Soho, by a gang of five men, which they “ endeavoured to effect by bribing the watchman, who dis“ covered their intentions to Mr. Boulton; in consequence of “which, Messrs. Boulton and Co. procured the constables “ from this town, and other assistants, to the number of “twenty in the whole, who were well armed, and concealed “ in the manufactory. At the appointed hour the gang broke “ into the premises, took 150 guineas, and loaded themselves “ with a variety of silver articles. As soon as they attempted
to depart, the parties in ambush rushed upon them, and a “ terrible conflict ensued; fire-arms were discharged on each “ side; and, after a severe struggle, four of the five offenders
* 22nd May, 1782.
† To Mr. Boulton, 14 February, 1782.