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DR. BLACK'S AND PROFESSOR ROBISON'S ACCOUNT OF MR. WATT'S INTRO
DUCTION TO DR. ROEBUCK ENTIRE ORIGINALITY OF MR. WATT'S INVENTION -CONFIRMED BY DR. ROEBUCK WILCKE'S AIR-PUMP ACTING BY THE CONDENSATION OF STEAM SUBSEQUENT TO MR. WATT'S INVENTION OF THE SEPARATE CONDENSER — HUMPARY GAINSBOROUGH.
With regard to the model of Newcomen's engine belonging to the College of Glasgow, and which has attained so great a celebrity by the results which it was instrumental in producing, we find two entries in the records of that University; the first is as follows :—“University meeting, 25th June, “ 1760. Mr. Anderson is allowed to lay out a sum, not
exceeding two pounds sterling, to recover the steam-engine “ from Mr. Sisson,* instrument-maker at London.”
Mr. John Anderson in 1757 succeeded Dr. Dick as Professor of Natural Philosophy in the College ; he filled that chair for the long period of thirty-nine years, and was the founder of the Andersonian Institution in Glasgow, which he designed “for Lectures in Natural Philosophy, and in every “ branch of knowledge;" and which was endowed by him with valuable philosophical apparatus, a museum, and library. We have already seen from the account given by Dr. Robison, that Mr. Anderson, although“ much more popular” than his predecessor, was considered to have “infinitely less know“ ledge;" a circumstance which may perhaps account for the nearly total oblivion of his name in any of the records connected with the life of Watt. But it appears that he was a native of Greenock, and brother of one of Mr. Watt's schoolcompanions, and, having been Professor of Hebrew from 1754 to 1757, he doubtless aided in that act of kindly patronage by which Mr. Watt was, at a critical period of his life, protected and encouraged. His employment of the young artisan to repair the little machine which suggested a train of thought leading to the greatest inventions of modern days, certainly gives Mr. Anderson a further claim, even if it be but an accidental one, to have his name associated with the “natural philosophy” of the steam-engine and of Glasgow College.
* Of this skilful artificer the learned “ rendit mobile. Sisson soutint à M. Delambre writes :-“Sisson fit “cet égard l'honneur et la pré" le quart de cercle de Greenwich, “ éminence de l'Angleterre." – De“ un autre pour l'Observatoire par- lambre, •Histoire de l'Astronomie “ ticulier du Roi d'Angleterre, et le “au dixhuitième Siècle,' p. 237, “ quart de cercle que Lemonnier 1827.
The model, (as will presently appear), never having worked well, had been sent to London in a vain endeavour to have its faulty construction amended. Whether Mr. Watt had seen it, during his stay there, in the workshop of Sisson, or how far he may have advised it being brought back to Glasgow, as a subject for further consideration and study, we know not. But the next entry concerning it, in the same records, appears to be this :-“University
meeting, 10th June, 1766. An account was given in by “ Mr. James Watt for repairing and altering the steam“ engine, with copper pipes and cisterns, amounting to 5l. 118. “ The said machine being the property of the College, and “ having been in such a situation that it did not answer the “ end for which it was made, the Principal is appointed to “ grant a precept for payment of the said account, which is " to be stated upon the fund for buying instruments to the “ College.”
This, it will be remembered, was after the idea of the separate condenser had “occurred,” which was "early in “ 1765;" and by the repairs and alterations of the “copper “ pipes and cisterns” of the machine, its fault of not answering the end for which it was made,-(one grievous enough, no
* For these extracts from the Uni- once occupied by a Hutcheson, an versity Records we are indebted to Adam Smith, and a Reid. See also the kindness of a learned friend, the “Deeds instituting Bursaries, &c., Rev. Dr. William Fleming; whose in the College and University of high academic praise it is, that he Glasgow,' p. 215, 1850. ably and eloquently fills the Chair
doubt, but appertaining to many other machines, both animate and inanimate, in common with it),—had in all probability been effectually corrected. That interesting little model, as altered by the hand of Watt, and preserved in all safety and honour within the precincts of its ancient birth-place, was once appropriately placed beside the noble statue of the Engineer, in the Hunterian Museum ;-a sacred relic worthy of such a shrine, and there visited by many a worshipping pilgrim. Such had been, in former years, the felicitous arrangement. But on revisiting the College of Glasgow in January, 1854, “one morn we miss'd” the model from its apposite home. On inquiry, we found that it had been placed among the apparatus attached to the Natural Philosophy Lecture-room, where, it was alleged, it had dwelt nearly a century ago. As the model, however, belongs to " the College,” we hope that this seclusion, so disappointing to the public eye, may be only temporary; and that what might now be fairly said to be “ meant for mankind,” may not permanently be imprisoned where it can be open to the inspection of comparatively only a few.
None of the different accounts which thus remain to us of the date of this, Mr. Watt's greatest invention, fix the precise day on which, to use Dr. Black's happy expression, “this
capital improvement flashed on his mind at once, and filled “ it with rapture.” According to Robison's recollection, thirty-one years afterwards, it was somewhere about 1765. Dr. Black, writing after the same interval of time, states it as having been “in the beginning of the year 1765.” Mr. Watt himself, in his notes on Robison, says “ early in 1765;" and the nearest approximation that we can make, from other documentary evidence, to any more precise date, is, that it must have been previous to the 29th of April in that year, as on that day Mr. Watt writes to his friend Dr. Lind, “I have
now almost a certainty of the facturum of the fire-engine,
having determined the following particulars: the quantity “ of steam produced; the ultimatum of the lever engine ; the “ quantity of steam destroyed by the cold of its cylinder ; the
quantity destroyed in mine: and if there is not some devil " in the hedge, mine ought to raise water to 44 feet with the same quantity of steam that theirs does to 32, (supposing “my cylinder as thick as theirs), which I think I can demon
strate. I can now make a cylinder of 2 feet diameter and “ 3 feet high only a 40th of an inch thick, and strong enough " to resist the atmosphere; sed tace. In short, I can think of “ nothing else but this machine. I hope to have the decisive “ trial before I see you. Write me to-morrow what you are “ about, and if any part of what you have to tell me concerns " the fire-engine."
“ His mind,” says Dr. Black, “became now very much employed in contriving the machinery by which this im“provement might be reduced to practice; and he soon “ planned it to such a degree, that he thought he was ready “ to make an experiment on a large scale. But here he was
stopped by the want of funds; and he found it necessary to “ associate himself with some person who had money and “spirit for such an undertaking, and to participate with him " the advantages which might be derived from this invention. “ He addressed himself to the late Dr. Roebuck, whose spirit “ for enterprise and improvement in arts was very well “ known, and the Doctor accordingly received with zeal the
opportunity offered to him. A small engine was soon built “ in one of the offices of Kinneil House, near Borrowstoness, “where various trials were made, and some difficulties surmounted, so as to give satisfaction.
“I must add that I was as much upon a footing of inti“ mate friendship with Dr. Roebuck as with Mr. Watt. The " Doctor, too, had no small degree of mechanical knowledge “and ingenuity; and was well qualified to perceive and “ value the talents of Mr. Watt. He had also much experi
ence of the use of common steam-engines, which he em“ployed in working his colliery. He was withal ardent and
sanguine in the pursuit of his undertakings, and was there“ fore a fortunate associate for Mr. Watt. Mr. Watt was a “ valetudinarian, more or less, ever since I knew him ; and “ his mind was liable to be too much depressed by little cross “ accidents, or by the necessity of a greater expense than he
“had foreseen ; whereas the Doctor was undaunted on such
occasions, and roused Mr. Watt to disregard expense, and “ to double his exertions, until the difficulty was overcome. “ But Mr. Watt was the sole inventor of the capital improve“ment and contrivance above mentioned. I remember very “ well that it cost me several reasonings and conversations to “ inform the Doctor fully of the nature of steam, of the great “ quantity of heat, and, consequently, of fuel, necessary to
produce it, and of the importance, therefore, of preventing “ the waste of it.”
“ I was very unfortunate,” says Robison, “in two visits I “ made to Glasgow during that summer; Mr. Watt being “ from home, once at Greenock, seeing his father, who was “ill, and the other time on a survey for a canal. When I
came to town for the winter, I found that Mr. Watt was “ again from home, and that he was deeply engaged with his
engine. His situation in life made it imprudent to engage “ in great expenses, and he was obliged to look out for an “ associate. Most fortunately there was in the neighbourhood “ such a person as he wished, Dr. Roebuck, a gentleman of
very uncommon knowledge in all the branches of civil “ engineering, familiarly acquainted with the steam-engine, " of which he employed several on his collieries, and deeply “ interested in this improvement. He was also well accus“ tomed to great enterprises, of an undaunted spirit, not “ scared by difficulties, nor a niggard of expense. Such a “ man was indispensably necessary to one of Mr. Watt's “ character ;-modest, timid, easily frightened by rubs and “ misgivings, and too apt to despond. I do not know who
pointed him out to Mr. Watt. He was well acquainted “ with Mr. Watt's talents, and admired them. I believe the “ connection was very soon formed. Dr. Black and all Mr. “ Watt's friends were happy at seeing so fair a commence“ ment. At this time I had not the pleasure of being known “ to Dr. Roebuck.”
“I believe that Dr. Black was “ the chief means of forming the connection between Mr. “ Watt and Dr. Roebuck; and I recollect most distinctly “ his saying to me, that Watt would have some difficulty in