James Nasmyth: Engineer, An Autobiography.
Edited by Samuel Smiles, LL.D.
(this Etext is taken from the popular edition, pub. John Murray 1897)
I have had much pleasure in editing the following Memoir of my friend Mr. Nasmyth. Some twenty years since (in April 1863), when I applied to him for information respecting his mechanical inventions, he replied: "My life presents no striking or remarkable incidents, and would, I fear, prove but a tame narrative. The sphere to which my endeavours have been confined has been of a comparatively quiet order; but, vanity apart, I hope I have been able to leave a few marks of my existence behind me in the shape of useful contrivances, which are in many ways helping on great works of industry."
Mr. Nasmyth, nevertheless, kindly furnished me with information respecting himself, as well as his former master and instructor, Henry Maudslay, of London, for the purpose of being inserted in Industrial Biography, or Ironworkers and Toolmakers, which was published at the end of 1863. He was of opinion that the outline of his life there presented was sufficiently descriptive of his career as a mechanic and inventor.
During the years that have elapsed since then, Mr. Nasmyth has been prevailed upon by some of his friends more especially by Sir John Anderson, late of Woolwich Arsenal—to note down the reminiscences of his life, with an account of his inventions, and to publish them for the benefit of others. He has accordingly spent some of his well earned leisure during the last two years in writing out his recollections. Having consulted me on the subject, I recommended that they should be published in the form of an Autobiography, and he has willingly given his consent.
Mr. Nasmyth has furnished me with abundant notes of his busy life, and he has requested me, in preparing them for publication, to "make use of the pruning-knife." I hope, however, that in editing the book I have not omitted anything that is likely to be interesting or instructive. I must add that everything has been submitted to his correction and received his final approval.
The narrative abundantly illustrates Mr. Nasmyth's own definition of engineering; namely, common sense applied to the use of materials. In his case, common sense has been more especially applied to facilitating and perfecting work by means of Machine Tools. Civilisation began with tools; and every step in advance has been accomplished through their improvement. Handicraft labour, in bone, stone, or wood, was the first stage in the development of man's power; and tools or machines, in iron or steel, are the last and most efficient method of economising it, and enabling him to intelligently direct the active and inert forces of nature.
It will be observed that Mr. Nasmyth, on his first start in life, owed much to the influence of his father, who was not only an admirable artist—"the founder," as Sir David Wilkie termed him, "of the landscape painting school of Scotland"—but an excellent mechanic. His "bow-and-string" roofs and bridges show his original merits as a designer; and are sufficient to establish his ability as a mechanical engineer. Indeed, one of Mr. Nasmyth's principal objects in preparing the notes of the following work, has been to introduce a Memorial to the memory of his father, to whom he owed so much, and to whom he was so greatly attached through life. Hence the numerous references to him, and the illustrations from his works of art, of architecture, as well as of mechanics, given in the early part of the book.
I might point out that Mr. Nasmyth's narrative has a strong bearing upon popular education; not only as regards economical use of time, careful observation, close attention to details, but as respects the uses of Drawing. The observations which he makes as to the accurate knowledge of this art are very important. In this matter he concurs with Mr. Herbert Spencer in his work on Education. "It is very strange," Mr. Nasmyth said some years ago, "that amidst all our vaunted improvements in education, the faculty of comparison by sight, or what may be commonly called the correctness of eye, has been so little attended to" He accordingly urges the teaching of rudimentary drawing in all public schools. "Drawing is," he says, "the Education of the Eye. It is more interesting than words. It is graphic language."
The illustrations given in the course of the following book will serve to show his own mastery of drawing whether as respects Mechanical details, the Moon's surface, or the fairyland of Landscape. It is perhaps not saying too much to aver that had he not devoted his business life to Mechanics, he would, like his father, his brother Patrick, and his sisters, have taken a high position as an artist. In the following Memoir we have only been able to introduce a few specimens of his drawings; but "The Fairies," "The Antiquary," and others, will give the reader a good idea of Mr. Nasmyth's artistic ability. Since his retirement from business life, at the age of forty-eight, Mr. Nasmyth's principal pursuit has been Astronomy. His Monograph on "The Moon," published in 1874, exhibits his ardent and philosophic love for science in one of its sublimest aspects. His splendid astronomical instruments, for the most part made entirely by his own hands, have enabled him to detect the "willow leaf-shaped" objects which form the structural element of the Sun's luminous surface. The discovery was shortly after verified by Sir John Herschel and other astronomers, and is now a received fact in astronomical science.
A Chronological List of some of Mr. Nasmyth's contrivances and inventions is given at the end of the volume, which shows, so far, what he has been enabled to accomplish during his mechanical career. These begin at a very early age, and were continued for about thirty years of a busy and active life. Very few of them were patented; many of them, though widely adopted, are unacknowledged as his invention. They, nevertheless, did much to advance the mechanical arts, and still continue to do excellent service in the engineering world.
The chapter relating to the origin of the Cuneiform Character, and of the Pyramid or Sun-worship in its relation to Egyptian Architecture, is placed at the end, so as not to interrupt the personal narrative. That chapter, it is believed, will be found very interesting, illustrated, as it is, by Mr. Nasmyth's drawings.
LONDON, October 1885.
List of Illustrations [omitted in this Etext]
CHAPTER 1 My Ancestry Sentiment of Ancestry Origin of the name of Naesmyth Naesmyth of Posso Naesmyth of Netherton Battle of Bothwell Brig Estate confiscated Elspeth Naesmyth Michael Naesmyth builder and architect Fort at Inversnaid Naesmyth family tomb Former masters and men Michael Naesmyth's son New Edinburgh Grandmother Naesmyth Uncle Michael
CHAPTER 2 Alexander Nasmyth Born 1758—Grassmarket Edinburgh—Education The Bibler's Seat The brothers Erskine Apprenticed to a coachbuilder The Trustees' Academy Huguenot artisans Alexander Runciman Copy of "The Laocoon" Assistant to Allan Ramsay Faculty of resourcefulness Begins as portrait painter Friendship with Miller of Dalswinton Miller and the first steamboat Visit to Italy Marriage to Barbara Foulis Burns the poet Edinburgh clubs Landscape beauty Abandons portrait for landscape painting David Roberts, R.A. Dean Bridge St. Bernard's Well Nelson's Monument Bow-and-string bridges Sunday rivet
CHAPTER 3 An Artist's Family Sir James Hall Geology of Edinburgh Friends of the family Henry Raeburn Evenings at home Society of artists "Caller Aon" Management of the household The family Education of six sisters The Nasmyth classes Pencil drawing Excursions round Edinburgh Graphic memoranda Patrick Nasmyth, sketch of his life Removes to London Visit to Hampshire Original prices of his works His friends His death
CHAPTER 4 My Early Years Born 1808 Mary Peterkin The brilliant red poppies Left-handed Patrick's birthday Vocal performance A wonderful escape Events of the war The French prisoners Entry of the 42d into Edinburgh Bleaching "claes" on the Calton The Greenside workshops The chimes of St. Giles' The Edinburgh Market The caddies The fishwives The "floore" Traditional fondness for cats A Nasmyth prayer
CHAPTER 5 My School-days My first schoolmaster "Preter pluperfect tense" The "penny pig" Country picnics Pupil at the High School Dislike of Latin Love of old buildings Their masonry Sir Walter Scott "The Heart of Midlothian" John Linnell The collecting period James Watt My father's workshop Make peeries, cannon, and "steels" School friendships Paterson's ironfoundry His foremen Johnie Syme Tom Smith and chemical experiments Kid gloves and technical knowledge
CHAPTER 6 Mechanical Beginnings Study arithmetic and geometry Practise art of drawing Its important uses Make tools and blowpipe Walks round Edinburgh Volcanic origin of the neighbourhood George the Fourth's visit The Radical Road Destructive fires Journey to Stirling The Devon Ironworks Robert Bald Carron Ironworks Coats of mail found at Bannockburn Models of condensing steam-engine Professor Leslie Edinburgh School of Arts Attend University classes Brass-casting in the bedroom George Douglass Make a working steam-engine Sympathy of activity The Expansometer Make a road steam-carriage Desire to enter Maudslay's factory
CHAPTER 7 Henry Maudslay, London Voyage to London with specimens of workmanship First walk through London Visit to Henry Maudslay The interview Exhibit my specimens Taken on as assistant The private workshop Maudslay's constructive excellence His maxims Uniformity of screws Meeting with Henry Brougham David Wilkie Visit to the Admiralty Museum The Block machinery The Royal Mint Steam yacht trip to Richmond Lodgings taken "A clean crossing"
CHAPTER 8 Maudslay's Private Assistant Enter Maudslay's service Rudimentary screw generator The guide screw Interview with Faraday Rate of wages Economical living My cooking stove Make model of marine steam-engine My collar-nut cutting machine Maudslay's elements of high-class workmanship Flat filing Standard planes Maudslay's "Lord Chancellor" Maudslay's Visitors General Bentham, Barton, Donkin and Chantrey The Cundell brothers Walks round London Norman architecture
CHAPTER 9 Holiday in the Manufacturing Districts Coaching trip to Liverpool Coventry English scenery 'The Rocket' The two Stephensons Opening of the railway William Fawcett Birkenhead Walk back to London Patricroft Manchester Edward Tootal Sharp, Roberts and Co. Manchester industry Coalbrookdale The Black Country Dudley Castle Wren's Nest Hill Birmingham Boulton and Watt William Murdoch John Drain Kenilworth—Warwick—Oxford—Windsor—London
CHAPTER 10 Begin Business at Manchester Stamping machine improved Astronomical instruments A reflecting telescope proposed Death of Maudslay Joshua Field 'Talking books' Leave Maudslay and Field Take temporary workshop in Edinburgh Archie Torry Construct a rotary steam-engine Prepare a stock of machine tools Visit to Liverpool John Cragg Visit to Manchester John Kennedy Grant Brothers Take a workshop Tools removed to Manchester A prosperous business begun Story of the brothers Grant Trip to Elgin and Castle Grant The brothers Cowper The printing machine Edward Cowper
CHAPTER 11 Bridgewater Foundry—Partnership Demand for skilled labour Machine tools in request My flat overloaded A crash among the decanters The land at Patricroft Lease from Squire Trafford Bridgewater Foundary begun Trip to Londonderry The Giant's Causeway Cottage at Barton The Bridgewater canal Lord Francis Egerton Safety foundry ladle Holbrook Gaskell taken as partner His eventual retirement
CHAPTER 12 Free Trade in Ability—The Strike—Death of my Father Hugo de Lupus The Peter Stubb's files Worsley labourers Promotion from the ranks Free trade in ability Foreman lieutenants, Archie Torry James Hutton John Clarke Thomas Crewdson Trades' Union interference A strike ordered Workman advertised for A reinforcement of Scotch mechanics The strike scotched Millwrights and engineers Indenture-bound apprentices Visits of my father Enthusiastic reception His last work His death Testimony of Sir David Wilkie
CHAPTER 13 My Marriage—The Steam Hammer Preparations for a home Influence of chance occurrences Visit to Mr. Hartop's near Barnsley Important interview Eventual marriage Great Western Railway locomotives Mr. Humphries and 'Great Western' steamship Forging of paddle-shaft Want of range of existing hammers The first steam hammer sketched Its arrangement The paddle shaft abandoned My sketch copied and adopted My visit to Creuzot Find steam hammer in operation A patent taken out First steam hammer made in England Its general adoption Patent secured for United States
CHAPTER 14 Travels in France and Italy The French Minister of Marine at Paris Rouen—Bayeux—Cherbourg—Brest—Rochefort—Indret M. Rosine Architecture of Nismes Marseilles—Toulon—Voyage to Naples—Genoa—Pisa Bay of Naples The National Museum Visit to Vesuvius The edge of the crater Volcanic commotion Overflows of burning lava Wine-shop at Rosina Return ride to Naples
CHAPTER 15 Steam Hammer Pile-driver The Royal Dockyards Steam hammer for Devonport Scene at the first stroke My Lords of the Admiralty Steam hammer pile-driver required The new docks at Devonport The pile-driver delivered Its description Trail against the old method Its general adoption Happy thoughts Testing of chain cables and anchors Causes of failure Punctilliousness of officials at royal dockyards Egyptian workman employed Affiffi Lalli Letter from Faraday
CHAPTER 16 Nuremberg—St. Petersburg—Dannemora. Visit to Nuremberg Albert Durer Adam Krafft Visit to St. Petersburg General Wilson General Greg Struve the astronomer Palaces and shops Ivy ornamentation The Emperor Nicholas a royal salute Francis Baird Work of Russian serfs The Izak Church Voyage to Stokholm Visit to Upsala The iron mines of Dannemora To Gottenburg by steamer Motala Trollhatten Falls Sweedish people Copenhagen Tycho Brahe; Zeland and Holstein Holland, and return
CHAPTER 17 More about Bridgewater Foundry—Woolwich Arsenal Increased demand for self-acting tools Promotions of lads The Trades' Union again Strike against Platt Brothers Edward Tootal's advice Friendliness between engineering firms Small high-pressure engines Uses of waste steam Improvements in calico-printing Improvements at Woolwich Arsenal Enlargement of workshops Improved machine tools The gun foundry and laboratories Orders for Spain and Russia Rope factory machinery Russian Officers Grand Duke Constantine Lord Ellesmere's visitors Admiral Kornileff
CHAPTER 18 Astronomical pursuits Hobbies at home Drawing Washington Irving Pursuit of astronomy Wonders of the heavens Construction of a new speculum William Lassell Warren de la Rue Home-made reflecting telescope A ghost at Patricroft Twenty-inch diameter speculum Drawings of the moon's surface Structure of the moon Lunar craters Pico Wrinkles of age Extinct craters Landscape scenery of the moon Meeting of British Association at Edinburgh The Bass Rock Professor Owen Robert Chambers The grooved rocks Hugh Miller and boulder clay Lecture on the moon Visit the Duke of Argyll Basaltic formation at Mull The Giant's Causeway The great exhibition Steam hammer engine Prize medals Interview with the Queen and Prince Consort Lord Cockburn Visit to Bonally D. O. Hill
CHAPTER 19 More about Astronomy Sir David Brewster Edward Cowper's lecture Cause of the sun's light Lord Murray Sir T. Mitchell The Milky Way Countless suns Infusoria in Bridgewater Canal Rotary movements of heavenly bodies Geological Society meeting Dr Vaugham Improvement of Small Arms Factory, Enfield Generosity of United States Government The Enfield Rifle
CHAPTER 20 Retirement from Business Letter from David Roberts, R. A. Puddling iron by steam The process tried Sir Henry Bessemer's invention Discussion at Cheltenham Bessemer's account Prepare to retire from business The Countess of Ellesmere The "Cottage in Kent" The "antibilious stock" Hammerfield, Penshurst Planting and gardening The Crystal Palace Music Tools and telescopes The greenhouse
CHAPTER 21 Active leisure Astronomy Lecture on the Moon Edinburgh Old friends Visit to the Continent—Paris, Chartres, Nismes, Chamounix Art of photography Sir John Herschel Spots on the sun's surface E.J. Stone De la Rue Visit from Sir John Herschel Cracking glass globe A million spots and letters Geological diagram Father Secchi at Rome Lord Lyndhurst Visit to Herschel His last letter Publication of The Moon Philip H. Calderon Cardinal Manning Miss Herschel William Lassell Windmill grinding of speculum The dial of life End of recollections
List of Inventions and Contrivances
Articles on the Sun-Ray origin of the Pyramids and Cuneiform Character
[Image] Edinburgh Castle, From the Vennel
CHAPTER 1. My Ancestry
Our history begins before we are born. We represent the hereditary influences of our race, and our ancestors virtually live in us. The sentiment of ancestry seems to be inherent in human nature, especially in the more civilised races. At all events, we cannot help having a due regard for the history of our forefathers. Our curiosity is stimulated by their immediate or indirect influence upon ourselves. It may be a generous enthusiasm, or, as some might say, a harmless vanity, to take pride in the honour of their name. The gifts of nature, however, are more valuable than those of fortune; and no line of ancestry, however honourable, can absolve us from the duty of diligent application and perseverance, or from the practice of the virtues of self-control and self-help.
Sir Bernard Burke, in his Peerage and Baronetage Ed 1879 Pp 885-6, gives a faithful account of the ancestors from whom I am lineally descended. "The family of Naesymth, he says, "is one of remote antiquity in Tweeddale, and has possessed lands there since the 13th century." They fought in the wars of Bruce and Baliol, which ended in the independence of Scotland.
The following is the family legend of the origin of the name of Naesymth: —
In the troublous times which prevailed in Scotland before the union of the Crowns, the feuds between the King and the Barons were almost constant. In the reign of James III. the House of Douglas was the most prominent and ambitious. The Earl not only resisted his liege lord, but entered into a combination with the King of England, from whom he received a pension. He was declared a rebel, and his estates were confiscated. He determined to resist the royal power, and crossed the Border with his followers. He was met by the Earl of Angus, the Maxwells, the Johnstons, and the Scotts. In one of the engagements which ensued the Douglases appeared to have gained the day, when an ancestor of the Naesmyths, who fought under the royal standard, took refuge in the smithy of a neighbouring village. The smith offered him protection, disguised him as a hammerman, with a leather apron in front, and asked him to lend a hand at his work.
While thus engaged a party of the Douglas partisans entered the smithy. They looked with suspicion on the disguised hammerman, who, in his agitation, struck a false blow with the sledge hammer, which broke the shaft in two. Upon this, one of the pursuers rushed at him, calling out, "Ye're nae smyth!" The stalwart hammerman turned upon his assailant, and, wrenching a dagger from him, speedily overpowered him. The smith himself, armed with a big hammer, effectually aided in overpowering and driving out the Douglas men. A party of the royal forces made their appearance, when Naesmyth rallied them, led them against the rebels, and converted what had been a temporary defeat into a victory. A grant of lands was bestowed upon him for his service. His armorial bearings consisted of a hand dexter with a dagger, between two broken hammer-shafts, and there they remain to this day. The motto was, Non arte sect marte, "Not by art but by war" In my time I have reversed the motto (Non marte sed arte); and instead of the broken hammer-shafts, I have adopted, not as my "arms" but as a device, the most potent form of mechanical art—the Steam Hammer.
[Image] Origin of the Name. By James Nasmyth.
Sir Michael Naesmyth, Chamberlain of the Archbishop of St. Andrews, obtained the lands of Posso and Glenarth in 1544, by right of his wife, Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Baird of Posso. The Bairds have ever been a loyal and gallant family. Sir Gilbert, father of John Baird, fell at Flodden in 1513, in defence of his king.
The royal eyrie of Posso Crag is on the family estate; and the Lure worn by Queen Mary, and presented by her son James VI. to James Naesmyth, the Royal Falconer, is still preserved as a family heirloom.
During the intestine troubles in Scotland, in the reign of Mary, Sir Michael Naesmyth espoused the cause of the unfortunate Queen. He fought under her banner at Langside in 1568. He was banished, and his estates were seized by the Regent Moray. But after the restoration of peace, the Naesmyths regained their property. Sir Michael died at an advanced age.
He had many sons. The eldest, James, married Joana, daughter of William Veitch or Le Veitch of Dawick. By this marriage the lands of Dawick came into the family. He predeceased his father, and was succeeded by his son James, the Royal Falconer above referred to. Sir Michael's second son, John, was chief chirurgeon to James VI. of Scotland, afterwards James I. of England, and to Henry, Prince of Wales. He died in London in 1613, and in his testament he leaves "his herb to his young master, the Prince's grace." Charles I., in his instructions to the President of the Court of Session, enjoins "that you take special notice of the children of John Naesmyth, so often recommended by our late dear father and us." Two of Sir Michael's other sons were killed at Edinburgh in 1588, in a deadly feud between the Scotts and the Naesmyths. In those days a sort of Corsican vendetta was carried on between families from one generation to another.
Sir Michael Naesmyth, son of the Royal Falconer, succeeded to the property. His eldest son James was appointed to serve in Claverhouse's troop of horse in 1684. Among the other notable members of the family was James Naesmyth, a very clever lawyer. He was supposed to be so deep that he was generally known as the "Deil o' Dawyk". His eldest son was long a member of Parliament for the county of Peebles; he was, besides, a famous botanist, having studied under Linnaeus, Among the inter-marriages of the family were those with the Bruces of Lethen, the Stewarts of Traquhair, the Murrays of Stanhope, the Pringles of Clifton, the Murrays of Philiphaugh, the Keiths (of the Earl Marischal's family), the Andersons of St. Germains, the Marjoribanks of Lees, and others.
In the fourteenth century a branch of the Naesmyths of Posso settled at Netherton, near Hamilton. They bought an estate and built a residence. The lands adjoined part of the Duke of Hamilton's estate, and the house was not far from the palace. There the Naesmyths remained until the reign of Charles II. The King, or his advisers, determined to introduce Episcopacy, or, as some thought, Roman Catholicism, into the country, and to enforce it at the point of the sword.
The Naesmyths had always been loyal until now. But to be cleft by sword and pricked by spear into a religion which they disbelieved, was utterly hateful to the Netherton Naesmyths. Being Presbyterians, they held to their own faith. They were prevented from using their churches,* [footnote... In the reign of James II. of England and James VII. of Scotland a law was enacted, "that whoever should preach in a conventicle under a roof, or should attend, either as a preacher or as a hearer, a conventicle in the open air, should be punished with death and confiscation of property." ...] and they accordingly met on the moors, or in unfrequented places for worship. The dissenting Presbyterians assumed the name of Covenanters. Hamilton was almost the centre of the movement. The Covenanters met, and the King's forces were ordered to disperse them. Hence the internecine war that followed. There were Naesmyths on both sides— Naesmyths for the King, and Naesmyths for the Covenant.
In an early engagement at Drumclog, the Covenanters were victorious. They beat back Claverhouse and his dragoons. A general rising took place in the West Country. About 6000 men assembled at Hamilton, mostly raw and undisciplined countrymen. The King's forces assembled to meet them, — 10,000 well-disciplined troops, with a complete train of field artillery. What chance had the Covenanters against such a force? Nevertheless, they met at Bothwell Bridge, a few miles west of Hamilton. It is unnecessary to describe the action.* [footnote... See the account of a Covenanting Officer in the Appendix to the Scots Worthies. See also Sir Waiter Scott's Old Mortality, where the battle of Bothwell Brig is described. ...]
The Covenanters, notwithstanding their inferior force, resisted the cannonade and musketry of the enemy with great courage. They defended the bridge until their ammunition failed. When the English Guards and the artillery crossed the bridge, the battle was lost. The Covenanters gave way, and fled in all directions; Claverhouse, burning with revenge for his defeat at Drumclog, made a terrible slaughter of the unresisting fugitives. One of my ancestors brought from the battlefield the remnant of the standard; a formidable musquet— "Gun Bothwell" we afterwards called it; an Andrea Ferrara; and a powder-horn. I still preserve these remnants of the civil war.
My ancestor was condemned to death in his absence, and his property at Netherton was confiscated. What became of him during the remainder of Charles II.'s reign, and the reign of that still greater tormentor, James II., I do not know. He was probably, like many others, wandering about from place to place, hiding "in wildernesses or caves, destitute, afflicted, and tormented." The arrival of William III. restored religious liberty to the country, and Scotland was again left in comparative peace.
My ancestor took refuge in Edinburgh, but he never recovered his property at Netherton. The Duke of Hamilton, one of the trimmers of the time, had long coveted the possession of the lands, as Ahab had coveted Naboth's vineyard. He took advantage of the conscription of the men engaged in the Bothwell Brig conflict, and had the lands forfeited in his favour. I remember my father telling me that, on one occasion when he visited the Duke of Hamilton in reference to some improvement of the grounds adjoining the palace, he pointed out to the Duke the ruined remains of the old residence of the Naesmyths. As the first French Revolution was then in full progress, when ideas of society and property seemed to have lost their bearings, the Duke good-humouredly observed, "Well, well, Naesmyth, there's no saying but what, some of these days, your ancestors' lands may come into your possession again!"
Before I quit the persecutions of "the good old times," I must refer to the burning of witches. One of my ancient kinswomen, Elspeth Naesmyth, who lived at Hamilton, was denounced as a witch. The chief evidence brought against her was that she kept four black cats, and read her Bible with two pairs of spectacles! a practice which shows that she possessed the spirit of an experimental philosopher.
In doing this she adopted a mode of supplementing the power of spectacles in restoring the receding power of the eyes. She was in all respects scientifically correct. She increased the magnifying power of the glasses; a practice which is preferable to using single glasses of the same power, and which I myself often follow. Notwithstanding this improved method of reading her Bible, and her four black cats, she was condemned to be burned alive! She was about the last victim in Scotland to the disgraceful superstition of witchcraft.
The Naesmyths of Netherton having lost their ancestral property, had to begin the world again. They had to begin at the beginning. But they had plenty of pluck and energy. I go back to my great-great-grandfather, Michael Naesmyth, who was born in 1652. He occupied a house in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, which was afterwards rebuilt, in 1696. His business was that of a builder and architect. His chief employment was in designing and erecting new mansions, principally for the landed gentry and nobility. Their old castellated houses or towers were found too dark and dreary for modern uses. The drawbridges were taken down, and the moats were filled up. Sometimes they built the new mansions as an addition to the old. But oftener they left the old castles to go to ruin; or, what was worse, they made use of the stone and other materials of the old romantic buildings for the construction of their new residences.
Michael Naesmyth acquired a high reputation for the substantiality of his work. His masonry was excellent, as well as his woodwork. The greater part of the latter was executed in his own workshops at the back of his house in the Grassmarket. His large yard was situated between the back of the house and the high wall that bounded the Greyfriars Churchyard,to the east of the flight of steps which forms the main approach to George Heriot's Hospital.
[Image] Michael Naesmyth's House, Grassmarket.The lower building at the right hand corner of the engraving, with the three projecting gable ends
The last work that Michael Naesmyth was engaged in cost him his life. He had contracted with the Government to build a fort at Inversnaid, at the northern end of Loch Lomond. It was intended to guard the Lowlands, and keep Rob Roy and his caterans within the Highland Border. A promise was given by the Government that during the progress of the work a suitable force of soldiers should be quartered close at hand to protect the builder and his workmen.
[Image] Inversnaid Fort. After a drawing by Alexander Nasmyth
Notwithstanding many whispered warnings as to the danger of undertaking such a hazardous work, Michael Naesmyth and his men encamped upon the spot, though without the protection of the Government force. Having erected a temporary residence for their accommodation, he proceeded with the building of the fort. The work was well advanced by the end of 1703, although the Government had treated all Naesmyth's appeals for protection with evasion or contempt.
Winter set in with its usual force in those northern regions. One dark and snowy night, when Michael and his men had retired to rest, a loud knocking was heard at the door. "Who's there?" asked Michael. A man outside replied, "A benighted traveller overt aken by the storm" He proceeded to implore help, and begged for God's sake that he might have shelter for the night. Naesmyth, in the full belief that the traveller's tale was true, unbolted and unbarred the door, when in rushed Rob Roy and his desperate gang. The men, with the dirks of the Macgregors at their throats, begged hard for their lives. This was granted on condition that they should instantly depart, and take an oath that they should never venture within the Highland border again.
Michael Naesmyth and his men had no alternative but to submit, and they at once left the bothy with such scanty clothing as the Macgregors would allow them to carry away. They were marched under an armed escort through the snowstorm to the Highland border, and were there left with the murderous threat that, if they ever returned to the fort, they would meet with certain death.
Another attempt was made to build the fort at Inversnaid. But Rob Roy again surprised the small party of soldiers who were in charge. They were disarmed and sent about their business. Finally, the fort was rebuilt, and placed under the command of Captain (afterwards General) Wolfe. When peace fell upon the Highlands and Rob Roy's country became the scene of picnics, the fort was abandoned and allowed to go to ruin.
Poor Michael never recovered from the cold which he caught during his forced retreat from Inversnaid. The effects of this, together with the loss and distress of mind which he experienced from the Government's refusal to pay for his work—notwithstanding their promise to protect him and his workmen from the Highland freebooters—so preyed upon his mind that he was never again able to devote himself to business. One evening, whilst sitting at his fireside with his grandchild on his knee, a death-like faintness came over him; he set the child down carefully by the side of his chair, and then fell forward dead on his hearthstone.
Thus ended the life of Michael Naesmyth in 1705, at the age of fifty-three. He was buried by the side of his ancestors in the old family tomb in the Greyfriars Churchyard.
[Image] The Naesmyth Tomb in Greyfriars Churchyard
This old tomb, dated 1614, though much defaced, is one of the most remarkable of the many which surround the walls of that ancient and memorable burying-place.
Greyfriars Churchyard is one of the most interesting places in Edinburgh. The National Covenant was signed there by the Protestant nobles and gentry of Scotland in 1638. The prisoners taken at the battle of Bothwell Brig were shut up there in 1679, and, after enduring great privations, a portion of the survivors were sent off to Barbadoes. When I first saw the tombstone, an ash tree was growing out of the top of the main body of it, though that has since been removed. In growing, the roots had pushed out the centre stone, which has not been replaced. The tablet over it contains the arms of the family, the broken hammer-shafts, and the motto "Non arte sed marte." There are the remains of a very impressive figure, apparently rising from her cerements. The body and extremities remain, but the head has been broken away. There is also a remarkable motto on the tablet above the tombstone—"Ars mihi vim contra Fortunce; which I take to be, "Art is my strength in contending against Fortune,"—a motto which is appropriate to my ancestors as well as to myself.
The business was afterwards carried on by Michael's son, my great-grandfather. He was twenty-seven years old at the time of his father's death, and lived to the age of seventy-three. He was a man of much ability and of large experience.
One of his great advantages in carrying on his business was the support of a staff of able and trustworthy foremen and workmen. The times were very different then from what they are now. Masters and men lived together in mutual harmony. There was a kind of loyal family attachment among them, which extended through many generations. Workmen had neither the desire nor the means to shift about from place to place. On the contrary, they settled down with their wives and families in houses of their own, close to the workshops of their employers. Work was found for them in the dull seasons when trade was slack, and in summer they sometimes removed to jobs at a distance from headquarters. Much of this feeling of attachment and loyalty between workmen and their employers has now expired. Men rapidly remove from place to place. Character is of little consequence. The mutual feeling of goodwill and zealous attention to work seems to have passed away.
My grandfather, Michael Naesmyth, succeeded to the business in 1751. He more than maintained the reputation of his predecessors. The collection of first-class works on architecture which he possessed, such as the folio editions of Vitruvius and Palladio, which were at that time both rare and dear, showed the regard he had for impressing into his designs the best standards of taste. The buildings he designed and erected for the Scotch nobility and gentry were well arranged, carefully executed, and thoroughly substantial. He was also a large builder in Edinburgh. Amongst the houses he erected in the Old Town were the principal number of those in George Square. In one of these, No. 25, Sir Walter Scott spent his boyhood and youth. They still exist, and exhibit the care which he took in the elegance and substantiality of his works.
I remember my father pointing out to me the extreme care and attention with which he finished his buildings. He inserted small fragments of basalt into the mortar of the external joints of the stones, at close and regular distances, in order to protect the mortar from the adverse action of the weather. And to this day they give proof of their efficiency. The basalt protects the joints, and at the same time gives a neat and pleasing effect to what would otherwise have been merely the monotonous line of mason-work.
A great change was about to take place in the residences of the principal people of Edinburgh. The cry was for more light and more air. The extension of the city to the south and west was not sufficient. There was a great plateau of ground on the north side of the city, beyond the North Loch. But it was very difficult to reach; being alike steep on both sides of the Loch. At length, in 1767, an Act was obtained to extend the royalty of the city over the northern fields, and powers were obtained to erect a bridge to connect them with the Old Town.
The magistrates had the greatest difficulty in inducing the inhabitants to build dwellings on the northern side of the city. A premium was offered to the person who should build the first house; and #20 was awarded to Mr. John Young on account of a mansion erected by him close to George Street. Exemption from burghal taxes was also granted to a gentleman who built the first house in Princes Street. My grandfather built the first house in the south-west corner of St. Andrew Square, for the occupation of David Hume the historian, as well as the two most important houses in the centre of the north side of the same square. One of these last was occupied by the venerable Dr. Hamilton, a very conspicuous character in Edinburgh. He continued to wear the cocked hat, the powdered pigtail, tights, and large shoe buckles, for about sixty years after this costume had become obsolete. All these houses are still in perfect condition, after resisting the ordinary tear and wear of upwards of a hundred and ten northern winters. The opposition to building houses across the North Loch soon ceased; and the New Town arose, growing from day to day, until Edinburgh became one of the most handsome and picturesque cities in Europe.
There is one other thing that I must again refer to the highly-finished character of my grandfather's work. Nothing merely moderate would do. The work must be of the very best. He took special pride in the sound quality of the woodwork and its careful workmanship. He chose the best Dantzic timber because of its being of purer grain and freer from knots than other wood. In those days the lower part of the walls of the apartments were wainscoted—that is, covered by timber framed in large panels. They were from three to four feet wide, and from six to eight feet high. To fit these in properly required the most careful joiner-work.
It was always a holiday treat to my father, when a boy, to be permitted to go down to Leith to see the ships discharge their cargoes of timber. My grandfather had a Wood-yard at Leith, where the timber selected by him was piled up to he seasoned and shrunk, before being worked into its appropriate uses. He was particularly careful in his selection of boards or stripes for floors, which must be perfectly level, so as to avoid the destruction of the carpets placed over them. The hanging of his doors was a matter that he took great pride in—so as to prevent any uneasy action in opening or closing. His own chamber doors were so well hung that they were capable of being opened and closed by the slight puff of a hand-bellows.
The excellence of my grandfather's workmanship was a thing that my own father always impressed upon me when a boy. It stimulated in me the desire to aim at excellence in everything that I undertook; and in all practical matters to arrive at the highest degree of good workmanship. I believe that these early lessons had a great influence upon my future career.
I have little to record of my grandmother. From all accounts she was everything that a wife and mother should be. My father often referred to her as an example of the affection and love of a wife to her husband, and of a mother to her children. The only relic I possess of her handiwork is a sampler, dated 1743, the needlework of which is so delicate and neat, that to me it seems to excel everything of the kind that I have seen.
I am fain to think that her delicate manipulation in some respects descended to her grandchildren, as all of them have been more or less distinguished for the delicate use of their fingers—which has so much to do with the effective transmission of the artistic faculty into visible forms. The power of transmitting to paper or canvas the artistic conceptions of the brain through the fingers, and out at the end of the needle, the pencil, the pen, the brush, or even the modelling tool or chisel, is that which, in practical fact, constitutes the true artist.
This may appear a digression; though I cannot look at my grandmother's sampler without thinking that she had much to do with originating the Naesmyth love of the Fine Arts, and their hereditary adroitness in the practice of landscape and portrait painting, and other branches of the profession.
My grandfather died in 1803, at the age of eighty-four, and was buried by his father's side in the Naesmyth ancestral tomb in Greyfriars Churchyard. His wife, Mary Anderson, who died before him, was buried in the same place.
Michael Naesmyth left two sons—Michael and Alexander. The eldest was born in 1754. It was intended that he should have succeeded to the business; and, indeed, as soon as he reached manhood he was his father's right-hand man. He was a skilful workman, especially in the finer parts of joiner-work. He was also an excellent accountant and bookkeeper. But having acquired a taste for reading books about voyages and travels, of which his father's library was well supplied, his mind became disturbed, and he determined to see something of the world. He was encouraged by one of his old companions, who had been to sea, and realised some substantial results by his voyages to foreign parts. Accordingly Michael, notwithstanding the earnest remonstrances of his father, accompanied his friend on the next occasion when he went to sea.
After several voyages to the West Indies and other parts of the world, which both gratified and stimulated his natural taste for adventures, and also proved financially successful, his trading ventures at last met with a sad reverse, and he resolved to abandon commerce, and enter the service of the Royal Navy. He was made purser, and in this position he entered upon a new series of adventures. He was present at many naval engagements. But he lost neither life nor limb. At last he was pensioned, and became a resident at Greenwich Hospital. He furnished his apartments with all manner of curiosities, such as his roving naval life had enabled him to collect. His original skill as a worker in wood came to life again. The taste of the workman and the handiness of the seaman enabled him to furnish his rooms at the Hospital in a most quaint and amusing manner.
My father had a most affectionate regard for Michael, and usually spent some days with him when he had occasion to visit London. One bright summer day they went to have a stroll together on Blackheath; and while my uncle was enjoying a nap on a grassy knoll, my father made a sketch of him, which I still preserve. Being of a most cheerful disposition, and having a great knack of detailing the incidents of his adventurous life, he became a great favourite with the resident officers of the Hospital; and was always regarded by them as real good company. He ended his days there in peace and comfort, in 1819, at the age of sixty-four.
CHAPTER 2. Alexander Nasmyth
My father, Alexander Nasmyth, was the second son of Michael Nasmyth. He was born in his father's house in the Grassmarket on the 9th of September 1758. The Grassmarket was then a lively place. On certain days of the week it was busy with sheep and cattle fairs. It was the centre of Edinburgh traffic. Most of the inns were situated there, or in the street leading up to the Greyfriars Church gate.
The view from my grandfather's house was very grand. Standing up, right opposite, was the steep Castle rock, with its crown buildings and circular battery towering high overhead. They seemed almost to hang over the verge of the rock. The houses on the opposite side of the Grassmarket were crowded under the esplanade of the Castle Hill.
There was an inn opposite the house where my father was born, from which the first coach started from Edinburgh to Newcastle. The public notice stated that "The Coach would set out from the Grass Market ilka Tuesday at Twa o'clock in the day, GOD WULLIN', but whether or no on Wednesday." The "whether or no" was meant, I presume, as a precaution to passengers, in case all the places on the coach might be taken, or not, on Wednesday,
[Image] Plan of the Grassmarket
The Grassmarket was also the place for public executions. The gibbet stone was at the east end of the Market. It consisted of a mass of solid sandstone, with a quadrangular hole in the middle, which served as a socket for the gallows. Most of the Covenanters who were executed for conscience' sake in the reigns of Charles II. and James II. breathed their last at this spot. The Porteous mob, in 1736, had its culmination here. When Captain Porteous was dragged out of the Tolbooth in the High Street and hurried down the West Bow, the gallows was not in its place; but the leaders of the mob hanged him from a dyer's pole, nearly opposite the gallows stone, on the south side of the street, not far from my grandfather's door* [footnote... See Heart of Midlothian ...]
I have not much to say about my father's education. For the most part, he was his own schoolmaster. I have heard him say that his mother taught him his A B C; and that he afterwards learned to read at Mammy Smith's. This old lady kept a school for boys and girls at the top of a house in the Grassmarket. There my father was taught to rear his Bible, and to repeat his Carritch.* [footnote... The Shorter Catechism. ...]
As it was only the bigger boys who could read the Bible, the strongest of them consummated the feat by climbing up the Castle rock, and reaching what they called "The Bibler's Seat." It must have been a break-neck adventure to get up to the place. The seat was almost immediately under the window of the room in which James VI was born. My father often pointed it out to me as one of the most dangerous bits of climbing in which he had been engaged in his younger years.
[Image] The Bibler's seat
The annexed illustration is from his own slight sepia drawing; the Bibler's Seat is marked + Not so daring, but much more mischievous, was a trick which he played with some of his companions on the tops of the houses on the north side of the Grassmarket. The boys took a barrel to the Castlehill, filled it with small stones, and then shot it down towards the roofs of the houses in the Grassmarket. The barrel leapt from rock to rock, burst, and scattered a shower of stones far and wide. The fun was to see the "boddies" look out of their garret windows with their lighted lamps or candles, peer into the dark, and try to see what was the cause of the mischief.
Sir David Baird, the hero of Seringapatam, played a trick of the same kind before he went to India.
Among my father's favourite companions were the two sons of Dr. John Erskine, minister of Old Greyfriars, in conjunction with the equally celebrated Dr. Robertson. Dr. Erskine* [footnote... Dr. Erskine is well described by Scott in Guy Mannering, on the occasion when Pleydell and Mannering went to hear him preach a famous sermon. ...] was a man of great influence in his day, well known for his literary and theological works, as well as for his piety and practical benevolence. On one occasion, when my father was at play with his sons, one of them threw a stone, which smashed a neighbour's window. A servant of the house ran out, and seeing the culprit, called out, "Very wee!, Maister Erskine, I'll tell yeer faither wha broke the windae!" On which the boy, to throw her off the scent, said to his brother loudly, "Eh, keist! she thinks we're the boddy Erskine's sons."
The boddy Erskine! Who ever heard of such an irreverent nickname applied to that good and great man? "The laddies couldna be his sons," thought the woman. She made no further inquiry, and the boys escaped scot free. The culprit afterwards entered the service of the East India Company. "The boy was father to the man." He acquired great reputation at the siege of Seringapatam, where he led the forlorn hope. Erskine was promoted, until in course of time he returned to his native city a full-blown general. To return to my father's education. After he left "Mammy Smith's, he went for a short time to the original High School. It was an old establishment, founded by James VI. before he succeeded to the English throne, It was afterwards demolished to make room for the University buildings; and the new High School was erected a little below the old Royal Infirmary. After leaving the High School, Alexander Nasmyth was taught by his father, first arithmetic and mensuration, next geometry and mathematics, so far as the first three books of Euclid were concerned. After that, his own innate skill, ability, and industry enabled him to complete the rest of his education.
At a very early period my father exhibited a decided natural taste for art. He used his pencil freely in sketching from nature; and in course of time he showed equal skill in the use of oil colour. At his own earnest request he was bound apprentice to Mr. Crighton, then the chief coachbuilder in Edinburgh. He was employed in that special department where artistic taste was necessary—that is, in decorating the panels of the highest class of carriages, and painting upon them coats of arms, with their crests and supporters. He took great pleasure in this kind of work. It introduced him to the practical details of heraldry, and gave him command over his materials.
Still further to improve himself in the art of drawing, my father devoted his evenings to attending the Edinburgh Drawing Academy. This institution, termed "The Trustees' Academy of Fine Art," had been formed and supported by the funds arising from the estates confiscated after the rebellions of 1715 and 1745. Part of these funds was set apart by Government for the encouragement of drawing, and also for the establishment of the arts of linen weaving, carpet manufacture, and other industrial occupations.
These arts were introduced into Scotland by the French Protestants, who had been persecuted for conscience' sake out of their own country, and settled in England, Ireland, and Scotland, where they prosecuted their industrial callings. The Corporation was anxious to afford an asylum for these skilled and able workmen. The emigrants settled down with their families, and pursued their occupations of damask, linen, and carpet weaving. They were also required to take Scotch apprentices, and teach them the various branches of their trade. The Magistrates caused cottages and workshops to be erected on a piece of unoccupied land near Edinburgh, where the street appropriately called Picardy Place now stands,—the greater number of the weavers having come from Picardy in France.
In connection with the establishment of these industrial artisans, it was necessary to teach the young Scotch apprentices drawing, for the purpose of designing new patterns suitable for the market. Hence the establishment by the Trustees of the Forfeited Estate Funds of "The Academy of Fine Art." From the designing of patterns, the institution advanced to the improvement of the fine arts generally. Young men who had given proofs of their natural taste for drawing were invited to enter the school and participate in its benefits.
At the time that my father was apprenticed to the coach painter, the Trustees' Academy was managed by Alexander Runciman. He had originally been a house painter, from which business he proceeded to landscape painting. "Other artists," said one who knew him, "talked meat and drink; but Runciman talked landscape." He went to Rome and studied art there. He returned to Edinburgh, and devoted himself to historical painting. He was also promoted to the office of master of the Trustees' Academy. When my father called upon him with his drawings from nature, Runciman found them so satisfactory that he was at once admitted as a student. After his admission he began to study with intense eagerness. The young men who had been occupied at their business during the day could only attend in the evening. And thus the evenings were fixed for studying drawing and design. The Trustees' Academy made its mark upon the art of Scotland: it turned out many artists of great note — such as Raeburn, Wilkie, my father, and many more.
At the time when my father entered as a student, the stock of casts from the antique, and the number of drawings from the old masters, were very small; so much so, indeed, that Runciman was under the necessity of setting the students to copy them again and again. This became rather irksome to the more ardent pupils. My father had completed his sixth copy of a fine chalk drawing of "The Laocoon." It was then set for him to copy again. He begged Mr. Runciman for another subject. The quick-tempered man at once said,"l'll give you another subject." And turning the group of the Laocoon upside down, he added, "Now, then, copy that!" The patient youth set to work, and in a few evenings completed a perfect copy. It was a most severe test; but Runciman was so proud of the skill of his pupil that he had the drawing mounted and framed, with a note of the circumstances under which it had been produced. It continued to hang there for many years, and the story of its achievement became traditional in the school.
During all this time my father remained in the employment of Crighton the carriage builder. He improved in his painting day by day. But at length an important change took place in his career. Allan Ramsay, son of the author of The Gentle Shepherd, and then court painter to George III., called upon his old friend Crighton one day, to look over his works. There he found young Nasmyth painting a coat of arms on the panel of a carriage. He was so much surprised with the lad's artistic workmanship—for he was then only sixteen—that he formed a strong desire to take him into his service. After much persuasion, backed by the offer of a considerable sum of money, the coachbuilder was at length induced to transfer my father's indentures to Allan Ramsay.
It was, of course, a great delight to my father to be removed to London under such favourable auspices. Ramsay had a large connection as a portrait painter. His object in employing my father was that he should assist him in the execution of the subordinate parts, or dress portions, of portraits of courtiers, or of diplomatic personages. No more favourable opportunity for advancement could have presented itself. But all this was entirely due to my father's perseverance and advancing skill as an artist—the results of his steady application and labour.
Ramsay possessed a very fine collection of drawings by the old masters, all of which were free for my father to study. Ramsay was exceedingly kind to his young pupil. He was present at all the discussions in the studio, even when the sitters were present. Fellow-artists visited Ramsay from time to time. Among them was his intimate friend Philip Reinagle—an agreeable companion, and an excellent artist. Reinagle was one day so much struck with my father's earnestness in filling up some work, that he then and there got up a canvas and made a capital sketch-portrait of him in oil. It only came into my father's possession some years after Ramsay's death, and is now in my possession.
[Image] Alexander Nasmyth. After Reinagle's Portrait
Among the many amusing recollections of my father's life in London, there is one that I cannot resist narrating, because it shows his faculty of resourcefulness—a faculty which served him very usefully during his course through life. He had made an engagement with a sweetheart to take her to Ranelagh, one of the most fashionable places of public amusement in London. Everybody went in full dress, and the bucks and swells wore long striped silk stockings. My father, on searching, found that he had only one pair of silk stockings left. He washed them himself in his lodging-room, and hung them up before the fire to dry. When he went to look at them, they were so singed and burnt that he could not put them on. They were totally useless. In this sad dilemma his resourcefulness came to his aid. The happy idea occurred to him of painting his legs so as to resemble stockings. He went to his water-colour box, and dexterously painted them with black and white stripes. When the paint dried, which it soon did, he completed his toilet, met his sweetheart and went to Ranelagh. No one observed the difference, except, indeed, that he was complimented on the perfection of the fit, and was asked "where he bought his stockings?" Of course he evaded the question, and left the gardens without any one discovering his artistic trick.
My father remained in Allan Ramsay's service until the end of 1778, when he returned to Edinburgh to practise on his own behalf the profession of portrait painter. He took with him the kindest good-wishes of his master, whose friendship he retained to the end of Ramsay's life. The artistic style of my father's portraits, and the excellent likenesses of his sitters, soon obtained for him ample employment. His portraits were for the most part full-lengths, but of a small or cabinet size. They generally consisted of family groups, with the figures about twelve to fourteen inches high. The groups were generally treated and arranged as if the personages were engaged in conversation with their children; and sometimes a favourite servant was introduced, so as to remove any formal aspect in the composition of the picture. In order to enliven the background, some favourite view from the garden or grounds, or a landscape, was given; which was painted with as much care as if it was the main feature of the picture. Many of these paintings are still to be found in the houses of the gentry in Scotland. Good examples of his art are to be seen at Minto House, the seat of the Earl of Minto, and at Dalmeny Park, the seat of the Earl of Rosebery.
Among my father's early employers was Patrick Miller, Esq., of Dalswinton, in Dumfriesshire. He painted Mr. Miller's portrait as well as those of several members of his family. This intercourse eventually led to the establishment of a very warm personal friendship between them. Miller had made a large fortune in Edinburgh as a banker; and after he had partially retired from business, he devoted much of his spare time to useful purposes. He was a man of great energy of character, and was never idle. At first he applied himself to the improvement of agriculture, which he did with great success on his estate of Dalswinton. Being one of the largest shareholders in the Carron Ironworks near Stirling, he also devoted much of his time to the improvement of guns for the Royal Navy. He was the inventor of that famous gun the Carronade. The handiness of these short and effective guns, which were capable of being loaded and fired nearly twice as quickly as the long small-bore guns, gave England the victory in many a naval battle, where the firing was close and quick, yardarm to yardarm.
But Mr. Miller's greatest claim to fame arises from his endeavours to introduce steam-power as an agent in the propulsion of ships at sea. Mr. Clerk of Eldin had already invented the system of "breaking the line" in naval engagements—a system that was first practised with complete success by Lord Rodney in his engagement off Martinico in 1780. The subject interested Mr. Miller so much that he set himself to work to contrive some mechanical method by means of which ships of war might be set in motion, independently of wind, tide, or calms, so that Clerk's system of breaking the line might be carried into effect under all circumstances.
It was about this time that my father was often with Miller; and the mechanical devices by means of which the method of breaking the line could be best accomplished was the subject of many of their conversations. Miller found that my father's taste for mechanical contrivances, and his ready skill as a draughtsman, were likely to be of much use to him, and he constantly visited the studio. My father reduced Miller's ideas to a definite form, and prepared a series of drawings, which were afterwards engraved and published. Miller's favourite design was, to divide the vessel into twin or triple hulls, with paddles between them, to be worked by the crew. The principal experiment was made in the Firth of Forth on the 2d of June 1787. The vessel was double-hulled, and was worked by a capstan of five bars. The experiment was on the whole successful. But the chief difficulty was in the propulsive power. After a spurt of an hour or so, the men became tired with their laborious work. Mr. Taylor, student of divinity, and tutor of Mr. Miller's sons, was on board, and seeing the exhausted state of the men at the capstan, suggested the employment of steam-power. Mr. Miller was pleased with the idea, and resolved to make inquiry upon the subject.
At that time William Symington, a young engineer from Wanlockhead, was exhibiting a road locomotive in Edinburgh. He was a friend of Taylor's, and Mr. Miller went to see the Symington model. In the course of his conversation with the inventor, he informed the latter of his own project, and described the difficulty he had experienced in getting his paddle-wheels turned round. On which Symington immediately asked, "Why don't you use the steam-engine?" The model which Symington exhibited, produced rotary motion by the employment of ratchet-wheels. The rectilinear motion of the piston-rod was thus converted into rotary motion. Mr. Miller was pleased with the action of the ratchet-wheel contrivance, and gave Symington an order to make a pair of engines of that construction. They were to be used on a small pleasure-boat on Dalswinton Lake.
The boat was constructed on the double-hull or twin plan, so that the paddle should be used in the space between the hulls.* [footnote... This steam twin boat was in fact the progenitor of the Castalia, constructed about a hundred years later for the conveyance of passengers between Calais and Dover. ...]
After much vexatious delay, arising from the entire novelty of the experiment, the boat and engines were at length completed, and removed to Dalswinton Lake. This, the first steamer that ever "trod the waters like a thing of life," the herald of a new and mighty power, was tried on the 14th of October 1788. The vessel steamed delightfully, at the rate of from four to five miles an hour, though this was not her extreme rate of speed. I give, on the next page, a copy of a sketch made by my father of this the first actual steamboat, with her remarkable crew.
[Image] The first steamboat. By Alexander Nasmyth* [footnote... The original drawing of the steamer was done by my father, and lent by me to Mr. Woodcroft, Who inserted it in his Origin and Progress of Steam Navigation. He omitted my father's name, and inserted only that of the lithographer, although it is a document of almost national importance in the history of Steam Navigation.
P.S.— since the above paragraph was written for the first edition, I have been enabled to find the drawing, with another remarkable pencil sketch of my father's, in the Gallery of the Museum of Naval Architecture at South Kensington. It will henceforward belong to that interesting collection.
The remarkable pencil sketch to which I have referred, is that of a screw propeller, drawn by my father, dated 1819. It was the result of many discussions as to the proper mode of propelling a vessel. First, he had drawn Watt's idea of a "spiral oar"; then, underneath, he has drawn his own idea, of a disk of six. blades, like a screw-jack, immediately behind the rudder. There is a crank shown on the screw shaft, by which the propeller was driven direct, showing that he was the first to indicate that method of propulsion of steamboats. ...]
The persons on board consisted of Patrick Miller, William Symington, Sir William Monteith, Robert Burns (the poet, then a tenant of Mr. Miller's), William Taylor, and Alexander Nasmyth. There were also three of Mr. Miller's servants, who acted as assistants. On the edge of the lake was a young gentleman, then on a visit to Dalswinton. He was no less a person than Henry Brougham, afterwards Lord Chancellor of England. The assemblage of so many remarkable men was well worthy of the occasion.
Taking into account the extraordinary results which have issued from this first trial of an actual steamboat, it may well be considered that this was one of the most important circumstances which ever occurred in the history of navigation. It ought, at the same time, to be remembered that all that was afterwards done by Symington, Fulton, and Bell, followed long after the performance of this ever-memorable achievement.
I may also mention, as worthy of special record, that the hull of this first steamboat was of iron. It was constructed of tinned iron plate. It was therefore the first iron steamboat, if not the first iron ship, that had ever been made. I may also add that the engines, constructed by Symington, which propelled this first iron steamboat are now carefully preserved at the Patent Museum at South Kensington, where they may be seen by everybody.* [footnote... The original engines of the boat, with the ratchet-wheel contrivance of Symington, are there: the very engine that propelled the first steamer on Dalswinton Lake. It may be added that Mr. Miller expended about #30,000 on naval improvements, and, as is often the case, he was wholly neglected by the Government. ...]
To return to my father's profession as a portrait painter. He had given so much assistance to Mr. Miller, while acting as his chief draughtsman in connection with the triple and twin ships, and also while attending him at Leith and elsewhere, that it had considerably interfered with his practice; though everything was done by him con amore, in the best sense of the term. In return for this, however, Mr. Miller made my father the generous offer of a loan to enable him to visit Italy, and pursue his studies there. It was the most graceful mode in which Mr. Miller could express his obligations. It was an offer pure and simple, without security, and as such was thankfully accepted by my father.
In those days an artist was scarcely considered to have completed his education until he had studied the works of the great masters at Florence and Rome. My father left England for Italy on the 30th of December 1782. He reached Rome in safety, and earnestly devoted himself to the study of art. He remained in Italy for the greater part of two years. He visited Florence, Bologna, Padua, and other cities where the finest artistic works were to be found. He made studies and drawings of the best of them, besides making sketches from nature of the most remarkable places he had visited. He returned to Edinburgh at the end of 1784, and immediately resumed his profession of a portrait painter. He was so successful that in a short time he was enabled to repay his excellent friend Miller the #500 which he had so generously lent him a few years before.
The satisfactory results of his zealous practice, and of his skill and industry in his profession, together with the prospect of increasing artistic work, enabled him to bring to a happy conclusion an engagement he had entered into before leaving Edinburgh for Italy. I mean his marriage to my mother—one of the greatest events of his life which took place on the 3rd of January 1786. Barbara Foulis was a distant relation of his own. She was the daughter of William Foulis, Esq., of Woodhall and Colinton, near Edinburgh. Her brother, the late Sir James Foulis, my uncle, succeeded to the ancient baronetcy of the family. See Burkes's Peerage and Baronetage* [footnote... In Burke's Peerage and Baronetage an account is given of the Foulis family. They are of Norman origin. A branch settled in Scotland in the reign of Malcolm Canmore. By various intermarriages, the Foulises are connected with the Hopetoun, Bute, and Rosebery families. The present holder of the title represents the houses of Colinton, Woodhall, and Ravelstone. ...]
My mother did not bring with her any fortune, so to speak, in the way of gold or acres; but she brought something far better into my father's home,—a sweetness of disposition, and a large measure of common sense, which made her, in all respects, the devoted helpmate of her husband. Her happy cheerful temperament, and her constant industry and attention, shed an influence upon all around her. By her example she inbred in her children the love of truth, excellence, and goodness. That was indeed the best fortune she could bring into a good man's home.
During the first year of my father's married life, when he lived in St. James's Square, he painted the well-known portrait of Robert Burns the poet. Burns had been introduced to him by Mr. Miller at Dalswinton. An intimate friendship sprang up between the artist and the poet. The love of nature and of natural objects was common to both. They also warmly sympathised in their political views. When Burns visited Edinburgh my father often met him. Burns had a strange aversion to sit for his portrait, though often urgently requested to do so. But when at my father's studio, Burns at last consented, and his portrait was rapidly painted. It was done in the course of a few hours, and my father made a present of it to Mrs. Burns.
A mezzotint engraving of it was afterwards published by William Walker, son-in-law of the famous Samuel Reynolds. When the first proof impression was submitted to my father, he said to Mr. Walker: "I cannot better express to you my opinion of your admirable engraving, than by telling you that it conveys to me a more true and lively remembrance of Burns than my own picture of him does; it so perfectly renders the spirit of his expression, as well as the details of his every feature."
While Burns was in Edinburgh, my father had many interesting walks with him in the neighbourhood of the city. The Calton Hill, Arthur's Seat, Salisbury Crags. Habbie's How, and the nooks in the Pentlands, were always full of interest; and Burns, with his brilliant and humorous conversation, made the miles very short as they strode along. Lockhart says, in his Life of Burns, that "the magnificent scenery of the Scottish capital filled the poet with extraordinary delight. In the spring mornings he walked very often to the top of Arthur's Seat, and, lying prostrate on the turf, surveyed the rising of the sun out of the sea in silent admiration; his chosen companion on such occasions being that learned artist and ardent lover of nature, Alexander Nasmyth."
A visit which the two paid to Roslin Castle is worthy of commemoration. On one occasion my father and a few choice spirits had been spending a "nicht wi' Burns." The place of resort was a tavern in the High Street, Edinburgh. As Burns was a brilliant talker, full of spirit and humour, time fled until the "wee sma' hours ayont the twal'" arrived. The party broke up about three o'clock. At that time of the year (the 13th of June) the night is very short, and morning comes early. Burns, on reaching the street, looked up to the sky. It was perfectly clear, and the rising sun was beginning to brighten the mural crown of St. Giles's Cathedral.
Burns was so much struck with the beauty of the morning that he put his hand on my father's arm and said, "It'll never do to go to bed in such a lovely morning as this! Let's awa' to Roslin Castle." No sooner said than done. The poet and the painter set out. Nature lay bright and lovely before them in that delicious summer morning. After an eight-miles walk they reached the castle at Roslin. Burns went down under the great Norman arch, where he stood rapt in speechless admiration of the scene. The thought of the eternal renewal of youth and freshness of nature, contrasted with the crumbling decay of man's efforts to perpetuate his work, even when founded upon a rock, as Roslin Castle is, seemed greatly to affect him.
My father was so much impressed with the scene that, while Burns was standing under the arch, he took out his pencil and a scrap of paper and made a hasty sketch of the subject. This sketch was highly treasured by my father, in remembrance of what must have been one of the most memorable days of his life.
Talking of clubs reminds me that there was a good deal of club life in Edinburgh in those days. The most notable were those in which the members were drawn together by occupations, habits, or tastes. They met in the evenings, and conversed upon congenial subjects. The clubs were generally held in one or other of the taverns situated in or near the High Street. Every one will remember the Lawyers' Club, held in an Edinburgh close, presided over by Pleydell, so well described by Scott in Guy Mannering.
In my father's early days he was a member of a very jovial club, called the Poker Club. It was so-called because the first chairman, immediately on his election, in a spirit of drollery, laid hold of the poker at the fireplace, and adopted it as his insignia of office. He made a humorous address from the chair, or "the throne," as he called it, with sceptre or poker in hand; and the club was thereupon styled by acclamation "The Poker Club." I have seen my father's diploma of membership; it was tastefully drawn on parchment, with the poker duly emblazoned on it as the regalia of the club.
In my own time, the club that he was most connected with was the Dilettanti Club. Its meetings were held every fortnight, on Thursday evenings, in a commodious tavern in the High Street. The members were chiefly artists, or men known for their love of art. Among then were Henry Raeburn, Hugh Williams (the Grecian), Andrew Geddes, William Thomson, John Shetkay, William Nicholson, William Allan, Alexander Nasmyth, the Rev. John Thomson of Duddingston, George Thomson, Sir Walter Scott, John Lockhart, Dr. Brewster, David Wilkie, Henry Cockburn, Francis Jeffrey, John A. Murray, Professor Wilson, John Ballantyne, James Ballantyne, James Hogg (the Ettrick Shepherd), and David Bridges, the secretary.* [footnote... Davie Bridges was a character. In my early days he was a cloth merchant in the High Street. His shop was very near that gigantic lounge, the old Parliament House, and was often resorted to by non-business visitors. Bridges had a good taste for pictures. He had a small but choice collection by the Old Masters, which he kept arranged in the warehouse under his shop. He took great pride in exhibiting them to his visitors, and expatiating upon their excellence. I remember being present in his warehouse with my father when a very beautiful small picture by Richard Wilson was under review. Davie burst out emphatically with, "Eh, man, did ye ever see such glorious buttery touches as on these clouds!" His joking friends clubbed him "Director-General of the Fine Arts for Scotland," a title which he complacently accepted. Besides showing off his pictures, Davie was an art critic, and wrote articles for the newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, however, his attention to pictures prevented him from attending to his shop, and his customers (who were not artists) forsook him, and bought their clothes elsewhere. He accordingly shut up his shop, and devoted himself to art criticism, in which, for a time, he possessed a monopoly. ...]
The drinks were restricted to Edinburgh ale and whisky toddy.
An admirable picture of the club in full meeting was painted by William Allan, in which characteristic portraits of all the leading members were introduced in full social converse. Among the more prominent portraits is one of my father, who is represented as illustrating some subject he is describing, by drawing it on the part of the table before him, with his finger dipped in toddy. Other marked and well-known characteristics of the members are skilfully introduced in the picture. The artist afterwards sold it to Mr. Horrocks of Preston, in Lancashire.
Besides portrait painting, my father was much employed in assisting the noblemen and landed gentry of Scotland in improving the landscape appearance of their estates, especially when seen from their mansion windows. His fine taste, and his love of natural scenery, gave him great advantages in this respect. He selected the finest sites for the new mansions, when they were erected in lieu of the old towers and crenellated castles. Or, he designed alterations of the old buildings so as to preserve their romantic features, and at the same time to fit them for the requirements of modern domestic life.
In those early days of art-knowledge, there scarcely existed any artistic feeling for the landscape beauty of nature. There was an utter want of appreciation of the dignified beauty of the old castles and mansions, the remnants of which were in too many instances carted away as material for now buildings. There was also at that time an utter ignorance of the beauty and majesty of old trees. A forest of venerable oaks or beeches was a thing to be done away with. They were merely cut down as useless timber; even when they so finely embellished the landscape. My father exerted himself successfully to preserve these grand old forest trees. His fine sketches served to open the eyes of their possessors to the priceless treasures they were about to destroy; and he thus preserved the existence of many a picturesque old tree. He even took the pains in many cases to model the part of the estate he was dealing with; and he also modelled the old trees he wished to preserve. Thus, by a judicious clearing out of the intercepting young timber, he opened out distant views of the landscape, and at the same time preserved many a monarch of the forest.* [footnote... It is even now to be deeply deplored that those who inherit or come into possession of landed estates do not feel sufficiently impressed with the possession of such grand memorials of the past. Alas! how often have we to lament the want of taste that leads to the sacrifice of these venerable treasures. Would that the young men at our universities especially those likely to inherit estates—were impressed with the importance of preserving them. They would thus confer an inestimable benefit to thousands. About forty years ago Lord Cockburn published a pamphlet on How to Destroy the Beauty of Edinburgh! He enforced the charm of green foliage in combination with street architecture. The burgesses were then cutting down trees. His lordship went so far as to say "that he would as soon cut down a burgess as a tree!" Since then the growth of trees in Edinburgh, especially in what was once the North Loch, has been greatly improved; and might be still further improved if that famous tree, "The London plane," were employed. ...]
[Image] The Family Tree
My father modelled old castles, old trees, and such like objects as he wished to introduce into his landscapes. The above illustration, may perhaps give a slight idea of his artistic skill as a modeller. I specially refer to this, which he called "The Family Tree," as he required each member of his family to assist in its production. We each made a twig or small branch, which he cleverly fixed into its place as a part of the whole. The model tree in question was constructed of wire slightly twisted together, so as to form the main body of a branch. It was then subdivided into branchlets, and finally into individual twigs. All these, combined together by his dexterous hand, resulted in the model of an old leafless tree, so true and correct, that any one would have thought that it had been modelled direct from nature.
The Duke of Athol consulted my father as to the improvements which he desired to make in his woodland scenery near Dunkeld. The Duke was desirous that a rocky crag, called Craigybarns, should be planted with trees, to relieve the grim barrenness of its appearance. But it was impossible for any man to climb the crag in order to set seeds or plants in the clefts of the rocks. A happy idea struck my father. Having observed in front of the castle a pair of small cannon used for firing salutes, it occurred to him to turn them to account. His object was to deposit the seeds of the various trees amongst the soil in the clefts of the crag. A tinsmith in the village was ordered to make a number of canisters with covers. The canisters were filled with all sorts of suitable tree seeds. A cannon was loaded, and the canisters were fired up against the high face of the rock. They burst and scattered the seed in all directions. Some years after, when my father revisited the place, he was delighted to find that his scheme of planting by artillery had proved completely successful; for the trees were flourishing luxuriantly in all the recesses of the cliff. This was another instance of my father's happy faculty of resourcefulness.
Certain circumstances about this time compelled my father almost entirely to give up portrait painting and betake himself to another branch of the fine arts. The earnest and lively interest which he took in the state of public affairs, and the necessity which then existed for reforming the glaring abuses of the State, led him to speak out his mind freely on the subject. Edinburgh was then under the reign of the Dundases; and scarcely anybody dared to mutter his objections to anything perpetrated by the "powers that be." The city was then a much smaller place than it is now. There was more gossip, and perhaps more espionage, among the better classes, who were few in number. At all events, my father's frank opinions on political subjects began to be known. He attended Fox dinners. He was intimate with men of known reforming views. All this was made the subject of general talk. Accordingly, my father received many hints from aristocratic and wealthy personages, that "if this went on any longer they would withdraw from him their employment." My father did not alter his course; it was right and honest. But he suffered nevertheless. His income from portrait painting fell off rapidly.