By Andrew Carnegie
Author of "The Empire of Business," "Gospel of Wealth," "Triumphant Democracy," "American Four-in-Hand in Britain," "Round the World," Etc.
New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1905
Copyright, 1905, by Doubleday, Page & Company Published, May, 1905
All rights reserved, including that of translation—also right of translation into the Scandinavian languages.
When the publishers asked me to write the Life of Watt, I declined, stating that my thoughts were upon other matters. This settled the question, as I supposed, but in this I was mistaken. Why shouldn't I write the Life of the maker of the steam-engine, out of which I had made fortune? Besides, I knew little of the history of the Steam Engine and of Watt himself, and the surest way to obtain knowledge was to comply with the publisher's highly complimentary request. In short, the subject would not down, and finally, I was compelled to write again, telling them that the idea haunted me, and if they still desired me to undertake it, I should do so with my heart in the task.
I now know about the steam-engine, and have also had revealed to me one of the finest characters that ever graced the earth. For all this I am deeply grateful to the publishers.
I am indebted to friends, Messrs. Angus Sinclair and Edward R. Cooper, for editing my notes upon Scientific and Mechanical points.
The result is this volume. If the public, in reading, have one tithe of the pleasure I have had in writing it, I shall be amply rewarded.
Authors Preface v
I. Childhood and Youth 3
II. Glasgow to London—Return to Glasgow. 23
III. Captured by Steam 45
IV. Partnership with Roebuck 67
V. Boulton Partnership 87
VI. Removal to Birmingham 121
VII. Second Patent 157
VIII. The Record of the Steam Engine 195
IX. Watt in Old Age 213
X. Watt, the Inventor and Discoverer 223
XI. Watt, the Man 233
CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
James Watt, born in Greenock, January 19, 1736, had the advantage, so highly prized in Scotland, of being of good kith and kin. He had indeed come from a good nest. His great-grandfather, a stern Covenanter, was killed at Bridge of Dee, September 12, 1644, in one of the battles which Graham of Claverhouse fought against the Scotch. He was a farmer in Aberdeenshire, and upon his death the family was driven out of its homestead and forced to leave the district.
Watt's grandfather, Thomas Watt, was born in 1642, and found his way to Crawford's Dyke, then adjoining, and now part of, Greenock, where he founded a school of mathematics, and taught this branch, and also that of navigation, to the fishermen and seamen of the locality. That he succeeded in this field in so little and poor a community is no small tribute to his powers. He was a man of decided ability and great natural shrewdness, and very soon began to climb, as such men do. The landlord of the district appointed him his Baron Bailie, an office which then had important judicial functions. He rose to high position in the town, being Bailie and Elder, and was highly respected and honored. He subsequently purchased a home in Greenock and settled there, becoming one of its first citizens. Before his death he had established a considerable business in odds and ends, such as repairing and provisioning ships; repairing instruments of navigation, compasses, quadrants, etc., always receiving special attention at his hands.
The sturdy son of a sturdy Covenanter, he refused to take the test in favor of prelacy (1683), and was therefore proclaimed to be "a disorderly school-master officiating contrary to law." He continued to teach, however, and a few years later the Kirk Session of Greenock, notwithstanding his contumacy, found him "blameless in life and conversation," and appointed him an Elder, which required him to overlook not only religious observances, but the manners and morals of the people. One of the most important of these duties was to provide for the education of the young, in pursuance of that invaluable injunction of John Knox, "that no father, of what estate or condition that ever he may be, use his children at his own fantasie, especially in their youthhood, but all must be compelled to bring up their children in learning and virtue." Here we have, at its very birth, the doctrine of compulsory education for all the people, the secret of Scotland's progress. Great as was the service Knox rendered in the field ecclesiastical, probably what he did for the cause of public education excels it. The man who proclaimed that he would never rest until there was a public school in every parish in Scotland must stand for all time as one of the foremost of her benefactors; probably, in the extent and quality of the influence he exerted upon the national character through universal compulsory education, the foremost of all.
The very year after Parliament passed the Act of 1696, which at last fulfilled Knox's aspirations, and during the Eldership of Watt's grandfather, Greenock made prompt provision for her parish school, in which we may be sure the old "teacher of mathematics" did not fail to take a prominent part.
Thomas Watt's son, the father of the great inventor, followed in his father's footsteps, after his father's death, as shipwright, contractor, provider, etc., becoming famous for his skill in the making of the most delicate instruments. He built shops at the back of his house, and such were the demands upon him that he was able to keep a number of men, sometimes as many as fourteen, constantly at work. Like his father, he became a man of position and influence in the community, and was universally esteemed. Prosperity attended him until after the birth of his famous son. The loss of a valuable ship, succeeded by other misfortunes, swept away most of the considerable sum which he had made, and it was resolved that James would have to be taught a trade, instead of succeeding to the business, as had been the intention.
Fortunate it was for our subject, and especially so for the world, that he was thus favored by falling heir to the best heritage of all, as Mr. Morley calls it in his address to the Midland Institute—"the necessity at an early age to go forth into the world and work for the means needed for his own support." President Garfield's verdict was to the same effect, "The best heritage to which a man can be born is poverty." The writer's knowledge of the usual effect of the heritage of milliondom upon the sons of millionaires leads him fully to concur with these high authorities, and to believe that it is neither to the rich nor to the noble that human society has to look for its preservation and improvement, but to those who, like Watt, have to labor that they may live, and thus make a proper return for what they receive, as working bees, not drones, in the social hive. Not from palace or castle, but from the cottage have come, or can come, the needed leaders of our race, under whose guidance it is to ascend.
We have a fine record in the three generations of the Watts, great-grandfather, grandfather and father, all able and successful men, whose careers were marked by steady progress, growing in usefulness to their fellows; men of unblemished character, kind and considerate, winning the confidence and affection of their neighbors, and leaving behind them records unstained.
So much for the male branch of the family tree, but this is only half. What of that of the grandmothers and mothers of the line—equally important? For what a Scotch boy born to labor is to become, and how, cannot be forecast until we know what his mother is, who is to him nurse, servant, governess, teacher and saint, all in one. We must look to the Watt women as carefully as to the men; and these fortunately we find all that can be desired. His mother was Agnes Muirhead, a descendant of the Muirheads of Lachop, who date away back before the reign of King David, 1122. Scott, in his "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," gives us the old ballad of "The Laird of Muirhead," who played a great part in these unsettled days.
The good judgment which characterised the Watts for three generations is nowhere more clearly shown than in the lady James Watt's father courted and finally succeeded in securing for his wife. She is described as a gentlewoman of reserved and quiet deportment, "esteemed by her neighbours for graces of person as well as of mind and heart, and not less distinguished for her sound sense and good manners than for her cheerful temper and excellent housewifery." Her likeness is thus drawn, and all that we have read elsewhere concerning her confirms the truth of the portrait. Williamson says that
the lady to whom he (Thomas Watt) was early united in marriage was Miss Agnes Muirhead, a gentlewoman of good understanding and superior endowments, whose excellent management in household affairs would seem to have contributed much to the order of her establishment, as well as to the every-day happiness of a cheerful home. She is described as having been a person above common in many respects, of a fine womanly presence, ladylike in appearance, affecting in domestic arrangements—according to our traditions—what, it would seem was considered for the time, rather a superior style of living. What such a style consisted in, the reader shall have the means of judging for himself. One of the author's informants on such points more than twenty years ago, a venerable lady, then in her eighty-fifth year, was wont to speak of the worthy Bailie's wife with much characteristic interest and animation. As illustrative of what has just been remarked of the internal economy of the family, the old lady related an occasion on which she had spent an evening, when a girl, at Mrs. Watt's house, and remembered expressing with much naivete to her mother, on returning home, her childish surprise that "Mrs. Watt had two candles lighted on the table!" Among these and other reminiscences of her youth, one venerable informant described James Watt's mother, in her eloquent and expressive Doric, as, "a braw, braw, woman—none now to be seen like her."
There is another account from a neighbor, who also refers to Mrs. Watt as being somewhat of the grand lady, but always so kind, so sweet, so helpful to all her neighbors.
The Watt family for generations steadily improved and developed. A great step upward was made the day Agnes Muirhead was captured. We are liable to forget how little of the original strain of an old family remains in after days. We glance over the record of the Cecils, for instance, to find that the present Marquis has less than one four-thousandth part of the Cecil blood; a dozen marriages have each reduced it one-half, and the recent restoration of the family to its pristine greatness in the person of the late Prime Minister, and in his son, the brilliant young Parliamentarian, of whom great things are predicted already, is to be credited equally to the recent infusion into the Cecil family of the entirely new blood of two successive brides, daughters of commoners who made their own way in the world. One was the mother of the late statesman, the other his wife and the mother of his sons. So with the Watt family, of which we have records of three marriages. Our Watt, therefore, had but one-eighth of the original Watt strain; seven-eighths being that of the three ladies who married into the family. Upon the entrance of a gentlewoman of Agnes Muirhead's qualities hung important results, for she was a remarkable character with the indefinable air of distinction, was well educated, had a very wise head, a very kind heart and all the sensibility and enthusiasm of the Celt, easily touched to fine issues. She was a Scot of the Scots and a storehouse of border lore, as became a daughter of her house, Muirhead of Lachop.
Here, then, we have existing in the quiet village of Greenock in 1736, unknown of men, all the favorable conditions, the ideal soil, from which might be expected to appear such "variation of species" as contained that rarest of elements, the divine spark we call genius. In due time the "variation" made its appearance, now known as Watt, the creator of the most potent instrument of mechanical force known to man.
The fond mother having lost several of her children born previously was intensely solicitous in her care of James, who was so delicate that regular attendance at school was impossible. The greater part of his school years he was confined most of the time to his room. This threw him during most of his early years into his mother's company and tender care. Happy chance! What teacher, what companionship, to compare with that of such a mother! She taught him to read most of what he then knew, and, we may be sure, fed him on the poetry and romance upon which she herself had fed, and for which he became noted in after life. He was rated as a backward scholar at school, and his education was considered very much neglected.
Let it not be thought, however, that the lad was not being educated in some very important departments. The young mind was absorbing, though its acquisitions did not count in the school records. Much is revealed of his musings and inward development in the account of a visit which he paid to his grandmother Muirhead in Glasgow, when it was thought that a change would benefit the delicate boy. We read with pleasant surprise that he had to be sent for, at the request of the family, and taken home. He kept the household so stirred up with his stories, recitations and continual ebullitions, which so fairly entranced his Grannie and Grandpa and the cousins, that the whole household economy was disordered. They lost their sleep, for "Jamie" held them spellbound night after night with his wonderful performances. The shy and contemplative youngster who had tramped among the hills, reciting the stirring ballads of the border, had found an admiring tho astonished audience at last, and had let loose upon them.
To the circle at home he was naturally shy and reserved, but to his Grannie, Grandpa, and Cousins, free from parental restraint, he could freely deliver his soul. His mind was stored with the legends of his country, its romance and poetry, and, strong Covenanters as were the Watts for generations, tales of the Martyrs were not wanting. The heather was on fire within Jamie's breast. But where got you all that perferidum Scotorum, my wee mannie—that store of precious nutriment that is to become part of yourself and remain in the core of your being to the end, hallowing and elevating your life with ever-increasing power? Not at the grammar school we trow. No school but one can instil that, where rules the one best teacher you will ever know, genius though you be—the school kept at your mother's knee. Such mothers as Watt had are the appointed trainers of genius, and make men good and great, if the needed spark be there to enkindle: "Kings they make gods, and meaner subjects kings."
We have another story of Watt's childhood that proclaims the coming man. Precocious children are said rarely to develop far in later years, but Watt was pre-eminently a precocious child, and of this several proofs are related. A friend looking at the child of six said to his father, "You ought to send your boy to a public school, and not allow him to trifle away his time at home." "Look how he is occupied before you condemn him," said the father. He was trying to solve a problem in geometry. His mother had taught him drawing, and with this he was captivated. A few toys were given him, which were constantly in use. Often he took them to pieces, and out of the parts sometimes constructed new ones, a source of great delight. In this way he employed and amused himself in the many long days during which he was confined to the house by ill health.
It is at this stage the steam and kettle story takes its rise. Mrs. Campbell, Watt's cousin and constant companion, recounts, in her memoranda, written in 1798:
Sitting one evening with his aunt, Mrs. Muirhead, at the tea-table, she said: "James Watt, I never saw such an idle boy; take a book or employ yourself usefully; for the last hour you have not spoken one word, but taken off the lid of that kettle and put it on again, holding now a cup and now a silver spoon over the steam, watching how it rises from the spout, and catching and connecting the drops of hot water it falls into. Are you not ashamed of spending your time in this way?"
To what extent the precocious boy ruminated upon the phenomenon must be left to conjecture. Enough that the story has a solid foundation upon which we can build. This more than justifies us in classing it with "Newton and the Apple," "Bruce and the Spider," "Tell and the Apple," "Galvani and the Frog," "Volta and the Damp Cloth," "Washington and His Little Hatchet," a string of gems, amongst the most precious of our legendary possessions. Let no rude iconoclast attempt to undermine one of them. Even if they never occurred, it matters little. They should have occurred, for they are too good to lose. We could part with many of the actual characters of the flesh in history without much loss; banish the imaginary host of the spirit and we were poor indeed. So with these inspiring legends; let us accept them and add others gladly as they arise, inquiring not too curiously into their origin.
While Watt was still in boyhood, his wise father not only taught him writing and arithmetic, but also provided a set of small tools for him in the shop among the workmen—a wise and epoch-making gift, for young Watt soon revealed such wonderful manual dexterity, and could do such astonishing things, that the verdict of one of the workmen, "Jamie has a fortune at his finger-ends," became a common saying among them. The most complicated work seemed to come naturally to him. One model after another was produced to the wonder and delight of his older fellow-workmen. Jamie was the pride of the shop, and no doubt of his fond father, who saw with pardonable pride that his promising son inherited his own traits, and gave bright promise of excelling as a skilled handicraftsman.
The mechanical dexterity of the Watts, grandfather, father and son, is not to be belittled, for most of the mechanical inventions have come from those who have been cunning of hand and have worked as manual laborers, generally in charge of the machinery or devices which they have improved. When new processes have been invented, these also have usually suggested themselves to the able workmen as they experienced the crudeness of existing methods. Indeed, few important inventions have come from those who have not been thus employed. It is with inventors as with poets; few have been born to the purple or with silver spoons in their mouths, and we shall plainly see later on that had it not been for Watt's inherited and acquired manual dexterity, it is probable that the steam engine could never have been perfected, so often did failure of experiments arise solely because it was in that day impossible to find men capable of executing the plans of the inventor. His problem was to teach them by example how to obtain the exact work required when the tools of precision of our day were unknown and the men themselves were only workmen of the crudest kind. Many of the most delicate parts, even of working engines, passed through Watt's own hands, and for most of his experimental devices he had himself to make the models. Never was there an inventor who had such reason to thank fortune that in his youth he had learned to work with his hands. It proved literally true, as his fellow-workmen in the shop predicted, that "Jamie's fortune was at his finger-ends."
As before stated, he proved a backward scholar for a time, at the grammar school. No one seems to have divined the latent powers smoldering within. Latin and Greek classics moved him not, for his mind was stored with more entrancing classics learned at his mother's knee: his heroes were of nobler mould than the Greek demigods, and the story of his own romantic land more fruitful than that of any other of the past. Busy working man has not time to draw his inspiration from more than one national literature. Nor has any man yet drawn fully from any but that of his native tongue. We can no more draw our mental sustenance from two languages than we can think in two. Man can have but one deep source from whence come healing waters, as he can have but one mother tongue. So it was with Watt. He had Scotland and that sufficed. When the boy absorbs, or rather is absorbed by, Wallace, The Bruce, and Sir John Grahame, is fired by the story of the Martyrs, has at heart page after page of the country's ballads, and also, in more recent times, is at home with Burns' and Scott's prose and poetry, he has little room and less desire, and still less need, for inferior heroes. So the dead languages and their semi-supernatural, quarrelsome, self-seeking heroes passed in review without gaining admittance to the soul of Watt. But the spare that fired him came at last—Mathematics. "Happy is the man who has found his work," says Carlyle. Watt found his when yet a boy at school. Thereafter never a doubt existed as to the field of his labors. The choice of an occupation is a serious matter with most young men. There was never room for any question of choice with young Watt. The occupation had chosen him, as is the case with genius. "Talent does what it can, genius what it must." When the goddess lays her hand upon a mortal dedicated to her shrine, concentration is the inevitable result; there is no room for anything which does not contribute to her service, or rather all things are made contributory to it, and nothing that the devotee sees or reads, hears or feels, but some way or other is made to yield sustenance for the one great, overmastering task. "The gods send thread for a web begun," because the web absorbs everything that comes within reach. So it proved with Watt.
At fifteen, he had twice carefully read "The Elements of Philosophy" (Gravesend), and had made numerous chemical experiments, repeating them again and again, until satisfied of their accuracy. A small electrical machine was one of his productions with which he startled his companions. Visits to his uncle Muirhead at Glasgow were frequent, and here he formed acquaintance with several educated young men, who appreciated his abilities and kindly nature; but the visits to the same kind uncle "on the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond," where the summer months were spent, gave the youth his happiest days. Indefatigable in habits of observation and research, and devoted to the lonely hills, he extended his knowledge by long excursions, adding to his botanical and mineral treasures. Freely entering the cottages of the people, he spent hours learning their traditions, superstitions, ballads, and all the Celtic lore. He loved nature in her wildest moods, and was a true child of the mist, brimful of poetry and romance, which he was ever ready to shower upon his friends. An omniverous reader, in after life he vindicated his practice of reading every book he found, alleging that he had "never yet read a book or conversed with a companion without gaining information, instruction or amusement." Scott has left on record that he never had met and conversed with a man who could not tell him something he did not know. Watt seems to have resembled Sir Walter, "who spoke to every man he met as if he were a brother"—as indeed he was—one of the many fine traits of that noble, wholesome character. These two foremost Scots, each supreme in his sphere, seem to have had many social traits in common, and both that fine faculty of attracting others.
The only "sport" of the youth was angling, "the most fitting practice for quiet men and lovers of peace," the "Brothers of the Angle," according to Izaak Walton, "being mostly men of mild and gentle disposition." From the ruder athletic games of the school he was debarred, not being robust, and this was a constant source of morbid misery to him, entailing as it did separation from the other boys. The prosecution of his favorite geometry now occupied his thoughts and time, and astronomy also became a fascinating study. Long hours were often spent, lying on his back in a grove near his home, studying the stars by night and the clouds by day.
Watt met his first irreparable loss in 1753, when his mother suddenly died. The relations between them had been such as are only possible between mother and son. Often had the mother said to her intimates that she had been enabled to bear the loss of her daughter only by the love and care of her dutiful son. Home was home no longer for Jamie, and we are not surprised to find him leaving it soon after she who had been to him the light and leading of his life had passed out of it.
Watt now reached his seventeenth year. His father's affairs were greatly embarrassed. It was clearly seen that the two brothers, John and James, had to rely for their support upon their own unaided efforts. John, the elder, some time before this had taken to the sea and been shipwrecked, leaving only James at home. Of course, there was no question as to the career he would adopt. His fortune "lay at his fingers' ends," and accordingly he resolved at once to qualify himself for the trade of a mathematical instrument maker, the career which led him directly in the pathway of mathematics and mechanical science, and enabled him to gratify his unquenchable thirst for knowledge thereof.
Naturally Glasgow was decided upon as the proper place in which to begin, and Watt took up his abode there with his maternal relatives, the Muirheads, carrying his tools with him.
No mathematical instrument maker was to be found in Glasgow, but Watt entered the service of a kind of jack-of-all-trades, who called himself an "optician" and sold and mended spectacles, repaired fiddles, tuned spinets, made fishing-rods and tackle, etc. Watt, as a devoted brother of the angle, was an adept at dressing trout and salmon flies, and handy at so many things that he proved most useful to his employer, but there was nothing to be learned by the ambitious youth.
His most intimate schoolfellow was Andrew Anderson, whose elder brother, John Anderson, was the well-known Professor of natural philosophy, the first to open classes for the instruction of working-men in its principles. He bequeathed his property to found an institution for this purpose, which is now a college of the university. The Professor came to know young Watt through his brother, and Watt became a frequent visitor at his house. He was given unrestricted access to the Professor's valuable library, in which he spent many of his evenings.
One of the chief advantages of the public school is the enduring friendships boys form there, first in importance through their beneficial influence upon character, and, second, as aids to success in after life. The writer has been impressed by this feature, for great is the number of instances he has known where the prized working-boy or man in position has been able, as additional force was required, to say the needed word of recommendation, which gave a start or a lift upward to a dearly-cherished schoolfellow. It seems a grave mistake for parents not to educate their sons in the region of home, or in later years in colleges and universities of their own land, so that early friendships may not be broken, but grow closer with the years. Watt at all events was fortunate in this respect. His schoolmate, Andrew Anderson, brought into his life the noted Professor, with all his knowledge, kindness and influence, and opened to him the kind of library he most needed.
GLASGOW TO LONDON—RETURN TO GLASGOW
Through Professor Muirhead, a kinsman of Watt's mother, he was introduced to many others of the faculty of the university, and, as usual, attracted their attention, especially that of Dr. Dick, Professor of natural philosophy, who strongly advised him to proceed to London, where he could receive better instruction than it was possible to obtain in Scotland at that time. The kind Professor, diviner of latent genius, went so far as to give him a personal introduction, which proved efficient. How true it is that the worthy, aspiring youth rarely goes unrecognised or unaided. Men with kind hearts, wise heads, and influence strong to aid, stand ready at every turn to take modest merit by the hand and give it the only aid needed, opportunity to speak, through results, for itself. So London was determined upon. Fortunately, a distant relative of the Watt family, a sea-captain, was about to set forth upon that then long and toilsome journey. They started from Glasgow June 7, 1755, on horseback, the journey taking twelve days.
The writer's parents often referred to the fact that when the leading linen manufacturer of Dunfermline was about to take the journey to London—the only man in the town then who ever did—special prayers were always said in church for his safety.
The member of Parliament in Watt's day from the extreme north of Scotland would have consumed nearly twice twelve days to reach Westminster. To-day if the capital of the English-speaking race were in America, which Lord Roseberry says he is willing it should be, if thereby the union of our English-speaking race were secured, the members of the Great Council from Britain could reach Washington in seven days, the members from British Columbia and California, upon the Pacific, in five days, both land and sea routes soon to be much quickened.
Those sanguine prophets who predict the reunion of our race on both sides of the Atlantic can at least aver that in view of the union of Scotland and England, the element of time required to traverse distances to and from the capital is no obstacle, since the most distant points of the new empire, Britain in the east and British Columbia and California in the west, would be reached in less than one-third the time required to travel from the north of Scotland to London at the time of the union. Besides, the telegraph to-day binds the parts together, keeping all citizens informed, and stirring their hearts simultaneously thousands of miles apart—Glasgow to London, 1755, twelve days; 1905, eight hours. Thus under the genius Steam, tamed and harnessed by Watt, the world shrinks into a neighborhood, giving some countenance to the dreamers who may perchance be proclaiming a coming reality. We may continue, therefore, to indulge the hope of the coming "parliament of man, the federation of the world," or even the older and wider prophecy of Burns, that, "It's coming yet for a' that, when man to man the world o'er, shall brithers be for a' that."
There comes to mind that jewel we owe to Plato, which surely ranks as one of the most precious of all our treasures: "We should lure ourselves as with enchantments, for the hope is great and the reward is noble." So with this enchanting dream, better than most realities, even if it be all a dream. Let the dreamers therefore dream on. The world, minus enchanting dreams, would be commonplace indeed, and let us remember this dream is only dreamable because Watt's steam engine is a reality.
After his twelve days on horseback, Watt arrived in London, a stranger in a strange land, unknowing and unknown. But the fates had been kind for, burdened with neither wealth nor rank, this poor would-be skilled mechanic was to have a fair chance by beginning at the bottom among his fellows, the sternest yet finest of all schools to call forth and strengthen inherent qualities, and impel a poor young man to put forth his utmost effort when launched upon the sea of life, where he must either sink or swim, no bladders being in reserve for him.
Our young hero rose to the occasion and soon proved that, Caesar-like, he could "stem the waves with heart of controversy." Thus the rude school of experience calls forth and strengthens the latent qualities of youth, implants others, and forms the indomitable man, fit to endure and overcome. Here, for the first time, alone in swarming London, not one relative, not one friend, not even an acquaintance, except the kind sea-captain, challenged by the cold world around to do or die, fate called to Watt as it calls to every man who has his own way to make:
"This is Collingtogle ford, And thou must keep thee with thy sword."
When the revelation first rushes upon a youth, hitherto directed by his parents, that, boy no more, he must act for himself, presto! change! he is a man, he has at last found himself. The supreme test, which proves the man, can come in all its winnowing force only to those born to earn their own support by training themselves to be able to render to society services which command return. This training compels the development of powers which otherwise would probably lie dormant. Scotch boy as Watt was to the core, with the lowland broad, soft accent, and ignorant of foreign literature, it is very certain that he then found support in the lessons instilled at his mother's knee. He had been fed on Wallace and Bruce, and when things looked darkest, even in very early years, his national hero, Wallace, came to mind, and his struggles against fearful odds, not for selfish ends, but for his country's independence. Did Wallace give up the fight, or ever think of giving up? Never! It was death or victory. Bruce and the spider! Did Bruce falter? Never! Neither would he. "Scots wa hae," "Let us do or die," implanted before his teens, has pulled many a Scottish boy through the crises of life when all was dark, as it will pull others yet to come. Altho Burns and Scott had yet to appear, to crystallise Scotland's characteristics and plant the talismanic words into the hearts of young Scots, Watt had a copious supply of the national sentiment, to give him the "stout heart for the stye brae," when manhood arrived. His mother had planted deep in him, and nurtured, precious seed from her Celtic garden, which was sure to grow and bear good fruit.
We are often met with the question, "What is the best possible safeguard for a young man, who goes forth from a pure home, to meet the temptations that beset his path?" Various answers are given, but, speaking that as a Scot, reared as Watt was, the writer believes all the suggested safeguards combined scarcely weigh as much as preventives against disgracing himself as the thought that it would not be only himself he would disgrace, but that he would also bring disgrace upon his family, and would cause father, mother, sister and brother to hang their heads among their neighbors in secluded village, on far-away moor or in lonely glen. The Scotch have strong traces of the Chinese and Japanese religious devotion to "the family," and the filial instinct is intensely strong. The fall of one member is the disgrace of all. Even although Watt's mother had passed, there remained the venerated father in Greenock, and the letters regularly written to him, some of which have fortunately been preserved, abundantly prove that, tho far from home, yet in home and family ties and family duties the young man had his strong tower of defence, keeping him from "all sense of sin or shame." Watt never gave his father reason for one anxious thought that he would in any respect discredit the good name of his forbears.
Many London shops were visited, but the rules of the trade, requiring apprentices to serve for seven years, or, being journeymen, to have served that time, proved an insuperable obstacle to Watt's being employed. His plan was to fit himself by a year's steady work for return to Glasgow, there to begin on his own account. He had not seven years to spend learning what he could learn in one. He would be his own master. Wise young man in this he was. There is not much outcome in the youth who does not already see himself captain in his dreams, and steers his barque accordingly, true to the course already laid down, not to be departed from, under any stress of weather. We see the kind of stuff this young Scotch lad was made of in the tenacity with which he held to his plan. At last some specimens of his work having seemed very remarkable to Mr. John Morgan, mathematical instrument maker, Finch Lane, Cornhill, he agreed to give the conquering young man the desired year's instructions for his services and a premium of twenty pounds, whereupon the plucky fellow who had kept to his course and made port, wrote to his father of his success, praising his master "as being of as good character, both for accuracy in his business, and good morals, as any of his way in London." The order in which this aspiring young man of the world records the virtues will not be overlooked. He then adds, "If it had not been for Mr. Short, I could not have got a man in London that would have undertaken to teach me, as I now find there are not above five or six who could have taught me all I wanted."
Mr. Short was the gentleman to whom Professor Dick's letter of introduction was addressed, who, no more than the Professor himself, nor Mr. Morgan, could withstand the extraordinary youth, whom he could not refuse taking into his service—glad to get him no doubt, and delighted that he was privileged to instruct one so likely to redound to his credit in after years. Thus Watt made his start in London, the twenty pounds premium being duly remitted from home.
Up to this time, Watt had been a charge on his father, but it was very small, for he lived in the most frugal style at a cost of only two dollars per week. In one of his letters to his father he regrets being unable to reduce it below that, knowing that his father's affairs were not prosperous. He, however, was able to obtain some remunerative work on his own account, which he did after his day's task was over, and soon made his position secure as a workman. Specialisation he met with for the first time, and he expresses surprise that "very few here know any more than how to make a rule, others a pair of dividers, and suchlike." Here we see that even at that early day division of labor had won its way in London, though yet unknown in the country. The jack-of-all-trades, the handyman, who can do everything, gives place to the specialist who confines himself to one thing in which practice makes him perfect. Watt's mission saved him from this, for to succeed he had to be master, not of one process, but of all. Hence we find him first making brass scales, parallel-rulers and quadrants. By the end of one month in this department he was able to finish a Hadley quadrant. From this he proceeded to azimuth compasses, brass sectors, theodolites, and other delicate instruments. Before his year was finished he wrote his father that he had made "a brass sector with a French joint, which is reckoned as nice a piece of framing-work as is in the trade," and expressed the hope that he would soon now be able to support himself and be no longer a charge upon him.
It is highly probable that this first tool finished by his own hands brought to Watt more unalloyed pleasure than any of his greater triumphs of later years, just as the first week's wages of youth, money earned by service rendered, proclaiming coming manhood, brings with it a thrill and glow of proud satisfaction, compared with which all the millions of later years are as dross.
Writers upon labor, who have never labored, generally make the profound mistake of considering labor as one solid mass, when the truth is that it contains orders and degrees as distinct as those in aristocracy. The workman skilled beyond his fellows, who is called upon by his superintendent to undertake the difficult job in emergencies, ranks high, and probably enjoys an honorable title, a pet name conferred by his shopmates. Men measure each other as correctly in the workshop as in the professions, and each has his deserved rank. When the right man is promoted, they rally round and enable him to perform wonders. Where favoritism or poor judgment is shown, the reverse occurs, and there is apathy and dissatisfaction, leading to poor results and serious trouble. The manual worker is as proud of his work, and rightly so, as men are in other vocations. His life and thought centre in the shop as those of members of Congress or Parliament centre in the House; and triumph for him in the shop, his world, means exactly the same to him, and appears not less important to his family and friends than what leadership is to the public man, or in any of the professions. He has all their pride of profession, and less vanity than most.
How far this "pride of profession" extends is well illustrated by the Pittsburgh story of the street scrapers at their noon repast. MacCarthy, recently deceased, was the subject of eulogy, one going so far as to assert that he was "the best man that ever scraped a hoe on Liberty Street." To this, one who had aspirations "allowed Mac was a good enough man on plain work, but around the gas-posts he wasn't worth a cent."
A public character, stopping over night with a friend in the country, the maid-of-all-work tells her mistress, after the guest departs, "I have read so much about him, never expecting to see him; little did I think I should have the honor of brushing his boots this morning." Happy girl in her work, knowing that all service is honorable. Even shoe-blacking, we see, has its rewards.
A Highland laird and lady, visiting some of their crofters on the moors, are met and escorted by a delighted wife to her cot. The children and the husband are duly presented. At an opportune moment the proud wife cannot refrain from informing her visitors that "it was Donald himsel' the laird had to send for to thatch the pretty golf-house at the Castle. Donald did all that himsel'," with an admiring glance cast at the embarrassed great man. Donald "sent for by the laird at the Castle" ranks in Donald's circle and in Donald's own heart with the honor of being sent for by His Majesty to govern the empire in Mr. Balfour's circle and in Mr. Balfour's own heart. Ten to one the proud Highland crofter and his circle reap more genuine, unalloyed satisfaction from the message than the lowland statesman and his circle could reap from his. But it made Balfour famous, you say. So was Donald made famous, his circle not quite so wide as that of his colleague—that is all. Donald is as much "uplifted" as the Prime Minister; probably more so. Thus is human nature ever the same down to the roots. Many distinctions, few differences in life. We are all kin, members of the one family, playing with different toys.
So deep down into the ranks of labor goes the salt of pride of profession, preventing rot and keeping all fresh in the main, because on the humblest of the workers there shines the bright ray of hope of recognition and advancement, progress and success. As long as this vista is seen stretching before all is well with labor. There will be friction, of course, between capital and labor, but it will be healthy friction, needed by, and good for, both. There is the higgling of the market in all business. As long as this valuable quality of honest pride in one's work exists, and finds deserved recognition, society has nothing to fear from the ranks of labor. Those who have had most experience with it, and know its qualities and its failings best, have no fear; on the contrary, they know that at heart labor is sound, and only needs considerate treatment. The kindly personal attention of the employer will be found far more appreciated than even a rise in wages.
Enforced confinement and unremitting labor soon told upon Watt's delicate constitution, yet he persevered with the self-imposed extra work, which brought in a little honest money and reduced the remittances from home. He caught a severe cold during the winter and was afflicted by a racking cough and severe rheumatic pains. With his father's sanction, he decided to return home to recuperate, taking good care however, forehanded as he always proved himself, to secure some new and valuable tools and a stock of materials to make many others, which "he knew he must make himself." A few valuable books were not forgotten, among them Bion's work on the "Construction and Use of Mathematical Instruments"—nothing pertaining to his craft but he would know. King he would be in that, so everything was made to revolve around it. That was the foundation upon which he had to build.
To the old home in Scotland our hero's face was now turned in the autumn of 1756, his twentieth year. His native air, best medicine of all for the invalid exile, soon restored his health, and to Glasgow he then went, in pursuance of his plan of life early laid down, to begin business on his own account. He thus became master before he was man. There was not in all Scotland a mathematical instrument maker, and here was one of the very best begging permission to establish himself in Glasgow. As in London so in Glasgow, however, the rules of the Guild of Hammermen, to which it was decided a mathematical instrument maker would belong, if one of such high calling made his appearance, prevented Watt from entrance if he had not consumed seven years in learning the trade. He had mastered it in one, and was ready to demonstrate his ability to excel by any kind of test proposed. Watt had entered in properly by the door of knowledge and experience of the craft, the only door through which entrance was possible, but he had travelled too quickly; besides he was "neither the son of a burgess, nor had he served an apprenticeship in the borough," and this was conclusive. How the world has travelled onward since those days! and yet our day is likely to be in as great contrast a hundred and fifty years hence. Protective tariffs between nations, and probably wars, may then seem as strangely absurd as the hammermen's rules. Even in 1905 we have still a far road to travel.
Failing in his efforts to establish himself in business, he asked the guild to permit him to rent and use a small workshop to make experiments, but even this was refused. We are disposed to wonder at this, but it was in strict accordance with the spirit of the times.
When the sky was darkest, the clouds broke and revealed the university as his guardian angel. Dr. Dick, Professor of natural philosophy, knowing of Watt's skill from his first start in Glasgow, had already employed him to repair some mathematical instruments bequeathed to the university by a Scotch gentleman in the West Indies, and the work had been well done, at a cost of five pounds—the first contract money ever earned by Watt in Glasgow. Good work always tells. Ability cannot be kept down forever; if crushed to earth, it rises again. So Watt's "good work" brought the Professors to his aid, several of whom he had met and impressed most favorably during its progress. The university charter, gift of the Pope in 1451, gave absolute authority within the area of its buildings, and the Professors resolved to give our hero shelter there—the best day's work they ever did. May they ever be remembered for this with feelings of deepest gratitude. What men these were! The venerable Anderson has already been spoken of; Adam Smith, who did for the science of economics what Watt did for steam, was one of Watt's dearest friends; Black, discoverer of latent heat; Robinson, Dick of whom we have spoken, and others. Such were the world's benefactors, who resolved to take Watt under their protection, and thus enabled him to do his appointed work. Glorious university, this of Glasgow, protector and nurse of Watt, probably of all its decisions this has been of the greatest service to man!
There are universities and universities. Glasgow's peculiar claim to regard lies in the perfect equality of the various schools, the humanities not neglected, the sciences appreciated, neither accorded precedence. Its scientific Professor, Thompson, now Lord Kelvin, was recently elevated to the Lord Chancellorship, the highest honor in its power to bestow.
Every important university develops special qualities of its own, for which it is noted. That of Glasgow is renowned for devotion to the scientific field. What a record is hers! Protector of Watt, going to extreme measures necessary, not alone to shelter him, but to enable him to labor within its walls and support himself; first university to establish an engineering school and professorship of engineering; first to establish a chemical teaching laboratory for students; first to have a physical laboratory for the exercise and instruction of students in experimental work; nursery from which came the steam engine of Watt, the discovery of latent heat by its Professor Black, and the successful operation of telegraph cables by its Professor and present Lord Chancellor (Lord Kelvin). May the future of Glasgow University copy fair her glorious past! Her "atmosphere" favors and stimulates steady, fruitful work. At all Scottish, as at all American universities, we may rejoice that there is always found a large number of the most distinguished students, who, figuratively speaking, cultivate knowledge upon a little oatmeal, earning money between terms to pay their way. It is highly probable that a greater proportion of these will be heard from in later years than of any other class.
American universities have, fortunately, followed the Glasgow model, and are giving more attention to the hitherto much neglected needs of science, and the practical departments of education, making themselves real universities, "where any man can study everything worth studying."
A room was assigned to Watt, only about twenty feet square, but it served him as it has done others since for great work. When the well-known author, Dr. Smiles, visited the room, he found in it the galvanic apparatus employed by Professor Thompson (Lord Kelvin) for perfecting his delicate invention which rendered ocean cables effective.
The kind and wise Professors did not stop here. They went pretty far, one cannot but think, when they took the next step in Watt's behalf, giving him a small room, which could be made accessible to the public, and this he was at liberty to open as a shop for the sale of his instruments, for Watt had to make a living by his handiwork. Strange work this for a university, especially in those days; but our readers, we are sure, will heartily approve the last, as they have no doubt approved the first action of the faculty in favor of struggling genius. Business was not prosperous at first with Watt, his instruments proving slow of sale. Of quadrants he could make three per week with the help of a lad, at a profit of forty shillings, but as sea-going ships could not then reach Glasgow, few could be sold. A supply was sent to Greenock, then the port of Glasgow, and sold by his father. He was reduced, as the greatest artists have often been, to the necessity of making what are known as "pot-boilers." Following the example of his first master in Glasgow he made spectacles, fiddles, flutes, guitars, and, of course, flies and fishing-tackle, and, as the record tells, "many dislocated violins, fractured guitars, fiddles also, if intreated, did he mend with good approbation." Such were his "pot-boilers" that met the situation.
His friend, Professor Black, who, like Professor Dick, had known of Watt's talent, one day asked him if he couldn't make an organ for him. By this time, Watt's reputation had begun to spread, and it finally carried him to the height of passing among his associates as "one who knew most things and could make anything." Watt knew nothing about organs, but he immediately undertook the work (1762), and the result was an indisputable success that led to his constructing, for a mason's lodge in Glasgow, a larger "finger organ," "which elicited the surprise and admiration of musicians." This extraordinary man improved everything he touched. For his second organ he devised a number of novelties, a sustained monochord, indicators and regulators of the blast, means for tuning to any system, contrivances for improving the stops, etc.
Lest we are led into a sad mistake here, let us stop a moment to consider how Watt so easily accomplished wonders, as if by inspiration. In all history it may be doubted whether success can be traced more clearly to long and careful preparation than in Watt's case. When we investigate, for instance, this seeming sleight-of-hand triumph with the organs, we find that upon agreeing to make the first, Watt immediately devoted himself to a study of the laws of harmony, making science supplement his lack of the musical ear. As usual, the study was exhaustive. Of course he found and took for guide the highest authority, a profound, but obscure book by Professor Smith of Cambridge University, and, mark this, he first made a model of the forthcoming organ. It is safe to say that there was not then a man in Britain who knew more of the science of music and was more thoroughly prepared to excel in the art of making organs than the new organ-builder.
When he attacked the problem of steam, as we shall soon see, the same course was followed, although it involved the mastering of three languages, that he should miss nothing.
We note that the taking of infinite pains, this fore-arming of himself, this knowing of everything that was to be known, the note of thorough preparation in Watt's career, is ever conspicuous. The best proof that he was a man of true genius is that he first made himself master of all knowledge bearing upon his tasks.
Watt could not have been more happily situated. His surroundings were ideal, the resources of the university were at his disposal, and, being conveniently situated, his workshop soon became the rendezvous of the faculty. He thus enjoyed the constant intimate companionship of one of the most distinguished bodies of educated men of science in the world. Glasgow was favored in her faculty those days as now. Two at least of Watt's closest friends, the discoverer of latent heat, and the author of the "Wealth of Nations," won enduring fame. Others were eminent. He did not fail to realise his advantages, and has left several acknowledgments of his debt to "those who were all much my superiors, I never having attended a college and being then but a mechanic." His so-called superiors did not quite see it in this light, as they have abundantly testified, but the modesty of Watt was ever conspicuous all through his life.
Watt led a busy life, the time not spent upon the indispensable "pot-boilers" being fully occupied in severe studies; chemistry, mathematics and mechanics all received attention. What he was finally to become no one could so far predict, but his associates expected something great from one who had so deeply impressed them.
Robison (afterwards Professor of natural history in Edinburgh University), being nearer Watt's age than the others, became his most intimate friend. His introduction to Watt, in 1758, has been described by himself. After feasting his eyes on the beautifully finished instruments in his shop, Robison entered into conversation with him. Expecting to find only a workman, he was surprised to find a philosopher. Says Robison:
I had the vanity to think myself a pretty good proficient in my favorite study (mathematical and mechanical philosophy), and was rather mortified at finding Mr. Watt so much my superior. But his own high relish for those things made him pleased with the chat of any person who had the same tastes with himself; or his innate complaisance made him indulge my curiosity, and even encourage my endeavors to form a more intimate acquaintance with him. I lounged much about him, and, I doubt not, was frequently teasing him. Thus our acquaintance began.
CAPTURED BY STEAM
The supreme hour of Watt's life was now about to strike. He had become deeply interested in the subject of steam, to which Professor Robison had called his attention, Robison being then in his twentieth year, Watt three years older.
Robison's idea was that steam might be applied to wheel carriages. Watt admitted his ignorance of steam then. Nevertheless, he made a model of a wheel carriage with two cylinders of tin plate, but being slightly and inaccurately made, it failed to work satisfactorily. Nothing more was heard of it. Robison soon thereafter left Glasgow. The demon Steam continued to haunt Watt. He, who up to this time had never seen even a model of a steam engine, strangely discovered in his researches that the university actually owned a model of the latest type, the Newcomen engine, which had been purchased for the use of the natural philosophy class. One wonders how many of the universities in Britain had been so progressive. That of Glasgow seems to have recognised at an early day the importance of science, in which department she continues famous. The coveted and now historical model had been sent to London for repairs. Watt urged its prompt return and a sum of money was voted for this purpose. Watt was at last completely absorbed in the subject of steam. He read all that had been written on the subject. Most of the valuable matter those days was in French and Italian, of which there were no translations. Watt promptly began to acquire these languages, that he might know all that was to be known. He could not await the coming of the model, which did not arrive until 1763, and began his own experiments in 1761. How did he obtain the necessary appliances and apparatus, one asks. The answer is easy. He made them. Apothecaries' vials were his steam boilers, and hollowed-out canes his steam-pipes. Numerous experiments followed and much was learnt. Watt's account of these is appended to the article on "Steam and the Steam Engine" in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," ninth edition.
Detailed accounts of Watt's numerous experiments, failures, difficulties, disappointments, and successes, as one after the other obstacles were surmounted, is not within the scope of this volume, these being all easily accessible to the student, but the general reader may be interested in the most important of all the triumphs of the indefatigable worker—the keystone of the arch. The Newcomen model arrived at last and was promptly repaired, but was not successful when put in operation. Steam enough could not be obtained, although the boiler seemed of ample capacity. The fire was urged by blowing and more steam generated, and still it would not work; a few strokes of the piston and the engine stopped. Smiles says that exactly at the point when ordinary experimentalists would have abandoned the task, Watt became thoroughly aroused. "Every obstacle," says Professor Robison, "was to him the beginning of a new and serious study, and I knew he would not quit it until he had either discovered its worthlessness or had made something of it." The difficulty here was serious. Books were searched in vain. No one had touched it. A course of independent experiments was essential, and upon this he entered as usual, determined to find truth at the bottom of the well and to get there in his own way. Here he came upon the fact which led him to the stupendous result. That fact was the existence of latent heat, the original discoverer of which was Watt's intimate friend, Professor Black. Watt found that water converted into steam heated five times its own weight of water to steam heat. He says:
Being struck with this remarkable fact (effect of latent heat), and not understanding the reason of it, I mentioned it to my friend, Dr. Black, who then explained to me his doctrine of latent heat, which he had taught some time before this period (1764); but having myself been occupied with the pursuits of business, if I had heard of it I had not attended to it, when I thus stumbled upon one of the material facts by which that beautiful theory is supported.
Here we have an instance of two men in the same university, discovering latent heat, one wholly ignorant of the other's doings; fortunately, the later discoverer only too glad to acknowledge and applaud the original, and, strange to say, going to him to announce the discovery he had made. Watt of course had no access to the Professor's classes, and some years before the former stumbled upon the fact, the theory had been announced by Black, but had apparently attracted little attention. This episode reminds us of the advantages Watt had in his surroundings. He breathed the very "atmosphere" of scientific and mechanical investigation and invention, and had at hand not only the standard books, but the living men who could best assist him.
What does latent heat mean? we hear the reader inquire. Let us try to explain it in simple language. Arago pronounced Black's experiment revealing it as one of the most remarkable in modern physics. Water passed as an element until Watt found it was a compound. Change its temperature and it exists in three different states, liquid, solid, and gaseous—water, ice and steam. Convert water into steam, and pass, say, two pounds of steam into ten pounds of water at freezing point and the steam would be wholly liquified, i.e., become water again, at 212 deg., but the whole ten pounds of freezing water would also be raised to 212 deg. in the process. That is to say two pounds of steam will convert ten pounds of freezing water into boiling water, so great is the latent heat set free in the passage of steam to lower temperatures at the moment when the contact of cold surfaces converts the vapor from the gaseous into the liquid state. This heat is so thoroughly merged in the compound that the most delicate thermometer cannot detect a variation. It is undiscoverable by our senses and yet it proves its existence beyond question by its work. Heat which is obtained by the combustion of coal or wood, lies also in water, to be drawn forth and utilised in steam. It is apparently a mere question of temperature. The heat lies latent and dead until we raise the temperature of the water to 212 deg., and it is turned to vapor. Then the powerful force is instantly imbued with life and we harness it for our purposes.
The description of latent heat which gave the writer the clearest idea of it, and at the same time a much-needed reminder of the fact that Watt was the discoverer of the practically constant and unvarying amount of heat in steam, whatever the pressure, is the following by Mr. Lauder, a graduate of Glasgow University and pupil of Lord Kelvin, taken from "Watt's Discoveries of the Properties of Steam."
It is well to distinguish between the two things, Discovery and Invention. The title of Watt the Inventor is world-wide, and is so just and striking that there is none to gainsay. But it is only to the few that dive deeper that Watt the Discoverer is known. When his mind became directed to the possibilities of the power of steam, he, following his natural bent, began to investigate its properties. The mere inventor would have been content with what was already known, and utilised such knowledge, as Newcomen had done in his engine. Watt might have invented the separate condenser and ranked as a great inventor, but the spirit of enquiry was in possession of him, and he had to find out all he could about the nature of steam.
His first discovery was that of latent heat. When communicating this to Professor Black he found that his friend had anticipated him, and had been teaching it in lectures to his students for some years past. His next step was the discovery of the total heat of steam, and that this remains practically constant at all pressures. Black's fame rests upon his theory of latent heat; Watt's fame as the discoverer of the total heat of steam should be equally great, and would be no doubt had his role of inventor not overshadowed all his work.
This part of Watt's work has been so little known that it is almost imperative to-day to give some idea of it to the general reader. Suppose you take a flask, such as olive oil is often sold in, and fill with cold water. Set it over a lighted lamp, put a thermometer in the water, and the temperature will be observed to rise steadily till it reaches 212 deg., where it remains, the water boils, and steam is produced freely. Now draw the thermometer out of the water, but leaving it still in the steam. It remains steady at the same point—212 deg. Now it requires quite a long time and a large amount of heat to convert all the water into steam. As the steam goes off at the same temperature as the water, it is evident a quantity of heat has escaped in the steam, of which the thermometer gives us no account. This is latent heat.
Now, if you blow the steam into cold water instead of allowing it to pass into the air, you will find that it heats the water six times more than what is due to its indicated temperature. To fix your ideas: suppose you take 100 lbs. of water at 60 deg., and blow one pound of steam into it, making 101 lbs., its temperature will now be about 72 deg., a rise of 12 deg. Return to your 100 lbs. of water at 60 deg. and add one pound of water at 212 deg. the same temperature as the steam you added, and the temperature will only be raised about 2 deg. The one pound of steam heats six times more than the one pound of water, both being at the same temperature. This is the quantity of latent heat, which means simply hidden heat, in steam.
Proceeding further with the experiment, if, instead of allowing the steam to blow into the water, you confine it until it gets to some pressure, then blow it into the water, it takes the same weight to raise the temperature to the same degree. This means that the total heat remains practically the same, no matter at what pressure.
This is James Watt's discovery, and it led him to the use of high-pressure steam, used expansively.
Even coal may yet be superseded before it is exhausted, for as eminent an authority as Professor Pritchett of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has said in a recent address:
Watt's invention and all it has led to is only a step on the way to harnessing the forces of nature to the service of man. Do you doubt that other inventions will work changes even more sweeping than those which the steam engine has brought?
Consider a moment. The problem of which Watt solved a part is not the problem of inventing a machine, but the problem of using and storing the forces of nature which now go to waste. Now to us who live on the earth there is only one source of power—the sun. Darken the sun and every engine on the earth's surface would soon stop, every wheel cease to turn, and all movement cease. How prodigal this supply of power is we seldom stop to consider. Deducting the atmospheric absorption, it is still true that the sun delivers on each square yard of the earth's surface, when he is shining, the equivalent of one horse-power working continuously. Enough mechanical power goes to waste on the college campus to warm and light and supply all the manufactories, street railroads and other consumers of mechanical power in the city. How to harness this power and to store it—that is the problem of the inventor and the engineer of the twentieth century, a problem which in good time is sure to be solved.
Who shall doubt, after finding this secret source of force in water, that some future Watt is to discover other sources of power, or perchance succeed in utilising the superabundant power known to exist in the heat of the sun, or discover the secret of the latent force employed by nature in animals, which converts chemical energy directly into the dynamic form, giving much higher efficiencies than any thermo-dynamic machine has to-day or probably ever can have. Little knew Shakespeare of man's perfect power of motion which utilises all energy! How came he then to exclaim "What a piece of work is man; how infinite in faculty; in form and moving how express and admirable"? This query, and a thousand others, have arisen; for we forget Arnold's lines to the Master:
"Others abide our question. Thou art free. We ask and ask—thou smilest and art still."
Man's "moving" is found more "express and admirable" than that of the most perfect machine or adaptation of natural forces yet devised. Lord Kelvin says the animal motor more closely resembles an electro-magnetic engine than a heat engine, but very probably the chemical forces in animals produce the external mechanical effects through electricity and do not act as a thermo-dynamic engine.
The wastage of heat energy under present methods is appalling. About 65 per cent. of the heat energy of coal can be put into the steam boiler, and from this only 15 per cent. of mechanical power is obtained. Thus about nine-tenths of the original heat in coal is wasted. Proceeding further and putting mechanical power into electricity, only from 2 to 5 per cent. is turned into light; or, in other words, from coal to light we get on an average only about one-half of 1 per cent. of the original energy, a wastage of ninety-nine and one-half of every hundred pounds of coal used. The very best possible with largest and best machinery is a little more than one pound from every hundred consumed.
When Watt gave to the steam-engine five times its efficiency by utilising the latent heat, he only touched the fringe of the mysterious realm which envelops man.
Burbank, of the spineless cactus and new fruits, who has been delving deep into the mysteries, tells us:
The facts of plant life demand a kinetic theory of evolution, a slight change from Huxley's statement that, "Matter is a magazine of force," to that of matter being force alone. The time will come when the theory of "ions" will be thrown aside, and no line left between force and matter.
Professor Matthews, he who, with Professor Loeb at Wood's Hole, is imparting life to sea-urchins through electrical reactions, declares "that certain chemical substances coming together under certain conditions are bound to produce life. All life comes through the operation of universal laws." We are but young in all this mysterious business. What lies behind and probably near at hand may not merely revolutionise material agencies but human preconceptions as well. "There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are ever dreamt of in your Philosophy."
Latent Heat was a find indeed, but there remained another discovery yet to make. Watt found that no less than four-fifths of all the steam used was lost in heating the cold cylinder, and only one-fifth performed service by acting on the piston. Prevent this, and the power of the giant is increased fourfold. Here was the prize to contend for. Win this and the campaign is won. First then, what caused the loss? This was soon determined. The cylinder was necessarily cooled at the top because it was open to the air, and also cooled below in condensing the charge of steam that had driven the piston up in order to create a vacuum, without which the piston would not descend from top to bottom, to begin another upward stroke. A jet of cold water was introduced to effect this. How to surmount this seemingly insuperable obstacle was the problem that kept Watt long in profound study.
Many plans were entertained, only to be finally rejected. At last the flash came into that teeming brain like a stroke of lightning. Eureka! he had found it. Not one scintilla of doubt ever intruded thereafter. The solution lay right there and he would invent the needed appliances. His mode of procedure, when on the trail of big game, is beautifully illustrated here. When he found the root of the defect which rendered the Newcomen engine impracticable for general purposes, he promptly formulated the one indispensable condition which alone met the problem, and which the successful steam-engine must possess. He abandoned all else for the time as superfluous, since this was the key of the position. This is the law he then laid down as an axiom—which is repeated in his specification for his first patent in 1769: "To make a perfect steam engine it was necessary that the cylinder should be always as hot as the steam which entered it, and that the steam should be cooled below 100 deg. to exert its full powers."
Watt describes how at last the idea of the "separate condenser," the complete cure, flashed suddenly upon his mind:
I had gone to take a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon, early in 1765. I had entered the green by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street and had passed the old washing-house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, and had gone as far as the herd's house, when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam and injection-water if I used a jet as in Newcomen's engine. Two ways of doing this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off by a descending pipe, if an offlet could be got at the depth of thirty-five or thirty-six feet, and any air might be extracted by a small pump. The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water and air ... I had not walked farther than the golf-house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.
Professor Black says, "This capital improvement flashed upon his mind at once and filled him with rapture." We may imagine
"Then felt he like some watcher of the skies When a new planet sweeps into his ken."
A new world had sprung forth in Watt's brain, for nothing less has the steam engine given to man. One reads with a smile the dear modest man's deprecatory remarks about the condenser in after years, when he was overcome by the glowing tributes paid him upon one occasion and hailed as having conquered hitherto uncontrollable steam. He stammered out words to the effect that it came in his way and he happened to find it; others had missed it; that was all; somebody had to stumble upon it. That is all very well, and we love thee, Jamie Watt (he was always Jamie to his friends), for such self-abnegation, but the truth of history must be vindicated for all that. It proclaims, Thou art the man; go up higher and take your seat there among the immortals, the inventor of the greatest of all inventions, a great discoverer and one of the noblest of men!
In this one change lay all the difference between the Newcomen engine, limited to atmospheric pressure, and the steam engine, capable of development into the modern engine through the increasing use of the tremendous force of steam under higher pressures, and improved conditions from time to time.
Watt leads the steam out of the cylinder and condenses it in a separate vessel, leaving the cylinder hot. He closes the cylinder top and sends a circular piston (hitherto all had been square) through it, and closely stuffs it around to prevent escape of steam. The rapidity of the "strokes" gained keeps the temperature of the cylinder high; besides, he encases it and leaves a space between cylinder and covering filled with steam. Thus he fulfils his law: "The cylinder is kept as hot as the steam that enters." "How simple!" you exclaim. "Is that all? How obviously this is the way to do it!" Very true, surprised reader, but true, also, that no condenser and closed cylinder, no modern steam engine.
On Monday morning following the Sabbath flash, we find Watt was up betimes at work upon the new idea. How many hours' sleep he had enjoyed is not recorded, but it may be imagined that he had several visions of the condenser during the night. One was to be made at once; he borrowed from a college friend a brass syringe, the body of which served as a cylinder. The first condenser vessel was an improvised syringe and a tin can. From such an acorn the mighty oak was to grow. The experiment was successful and the invention complete, but Watt saw clearly that years of unceasing labor might yet pass before the details could all be worked out and the steam engine appear ready to revolutionise the labor of the world. During these years, Professor Black was his chief adviser and encouraged him in hours of disappointment. The true and able friend not only did this, but furnished him with money needed to enable him to concentrate all his time and strength upon the task.
Most opportunely, at this juncture, came Watt's marriage, to his cousin Miss Miller, a lady to whom he had long been deeply attached. Watt's friends are agreed in stating that the marriage was of vast importance, for he had not passed untouched through the days of toil and trial. Always of a meditative turn, somewhat prone to melancholy when without companionship, and withal a sufferer from nervous headaches, there was probably no gift of the gods equal to that of such a wife as he had been so fortunate as to secure. Gentle yet strong in her gentleness, it was her courage, her faith, and her smile that kept Watt steadfast. No doubt he, like many other men blessed with an angel in the household, could truly aver that his worrying cares vanished at the doorstep.
Watt had at last, what he never had before, a home. More than one intimate friend has given expression to the doubt whether he could have triumphed without Mrs. Watt's bright and cheerful temperament to keep him from despondency during the trying years which he had now to encounter. Says Miss Campbell:
I have not entered into any of the interesting details my mother gave me of Mr. Watt's early and constant attachment to his cousin Miss Miller; but she ever considered it as having added to his enjoyment of life, and as having had the most beneficial influence on his character. Even his powerful mind sank occasionally into misanthropic gloom, from the pressure of long-continued nervous headaches, and repeated disappointments in his hopes of success in life. Mrs. Watt, from her sweetness of temper, and lively, cheerful disposition, had power to win him from every wayward fancy; to rouse and animate him to active exertion. She drew out all his gentle virtues, his native benevolence and warm affections.
From all that has been recorded of her, we are justified in classing Watt with Bassanio.
"It is very meet He live an upright life, For having such a blessing in his lady, He finds the joys of heaven here on earth; And if on earth he do not merit it, In reason he should never come to heaven."
Watt knew and felt this and let us hope that, as was his duty, he let Mrs. Watt know it, not only by act, but by frequent acknowledgment.
Watt did not marry imprudently, for his instrument-making business had increased, as was to have been expected, for his work soon made a reputation as being most perfectly executed. At first he was able to carry out all his orders himself; now he had as many as sixteen workmen. He took a Mr. Craig as a partner, to obtain needed capital. His profits one year were $3,000. The business had been removed in 1760 to new quarters in the city, and Watt himself had rented a house outside the university grounds. Having furnished it, Watt brought his young wife and installed her there, July, 1764. We leave him there, happy in the knowledge that he is to be carefully looked after, and, last but not least, steadily encouraged and counselled not to give up the engine. As we shall presently see, such encouragement was much needed at intervals.
The first step was to construct a model embodying all the inventions in a working form. An old cellar was rented, and there the work began. To prepare the plan was easy, but its execution was quite another story. Watt's sad experience with indifferent work had not been lost upon him, and he was determined that, come what may, this working model should not fail from imperfect construction. His own handiwork had been of the finest and most delicate kind, but, as he said, he had "very little experience of mechanics in great." This model was a monster in those days, and great was the difficulty of finding mechanics capable of carrying out his designs. The only available men were blacksmiths and tinsmiths, and these were most clumsy workmen, even in their own crafts. Were Watt to revisit the earth to-day, he would not easily find a more decided change or advance over 1764, in all that has been changed or improved since then, than in this very department of applied mechanics. To-day such a model as Watt constructed in the cellar would be simple work indeed. Even the gasoline or the electric motor of to-day, though complicated far beyond the steam model, is now produced by automatic machinery. Skilled workmen do not have to fashion the parts. They only stand looking on at machinery—itself made by automatic tools—performing work of unerring accuracy. Had Watt had at his call only a small part of the inventory resources of our day, his model steam engine might have been named the Minerva, for Minerva-like, it would have sprung forth complete, the creature of automatic machinery, the workmen meanwhile smilingly looking on at these slaves of the mechanic which had been brought forth and harnessed to do his bidding by the exercise of godlike reason.
The model was ready after six months of unceasing labor, but notwithstanding the scrupulous fastidiousness displayed by Watt in the workmanship of all the parts, the machine, alas, "snifted at many openings." Little can our mechanics of to-day estimate what "perfect joints" meant in those days. The entire correctness of the great idea was, however, demonstrated by the trials made. The right principle had been discovered; no doubt of that. Watt's decision was that "it must be followed to an issue." There was no peace for him otherwise. He wrote (April, 1765) to a friend, "My whole thoughts are bent on this machine. I can think of nothing else." Of course not; he was hot in the chase of the biggest game hunter ever had laid eyes on. He had seen it, and he knew he had the weapons to bring it down. A larger model, free as possible from defects which he felt he could avoid in the next, was promptly determined upon. A larger and better shop was obtained, and here Watt shut himself up with an assistant and erected the second model. Two months sufficed, instead of six required for the first. This one also at first trial leaked in many directions, and the condenser needed alterations. Nevertheless, the engine accomplished much, for it worked readily with ten and one-half pounds pressure per square inch, a decided increase over previous results. It was still the cylinder and its piston that gave Watt the chief trouble. No wonder the cylinder leaked. It had to be hammered into something like true lines, for at that day so backward was the art that not even the whole collective mechanical skill of cylinder-making could furnish a bored cylinder of the simplest kind. This is not to be construed as unduly hard upon Glasgow, for it is said that all the skill of the world could not do so in 1765, only one hundred and forty years ago. We travel so fast that it is not surprising that there are wiseacres among us quite convinced that we are standing still.
We may be pardoned for again emphasising the fact that it is not only for his discoveries and inventions that Watt is to be credited, but also for the manual ability displayed in giving to these "airy nothings of the brain, a local habitation and a name," for his greatest idea might have remained an "airy nothing," had he not been also the mechanician able to produce it in the concrete. It is not, therefore, only Watt the inventor, Watt the discoverer, but also Watt, the manual worker, that stands forth. As we shall see later on, he created a new type of workmen capable of executing his plans, working with, and educating them often with his own hands. Only thus did he triumph, laboring mentally and physically. Watt therefore must always stand among the benefactors of men, in the triple capacity of discoverer, inventor, and constructor.
The defects of the cylinder, though serious, were clearly mechanical. Their certain cure lay in devising mechanical tools and appliances and educating workmen to meet the new demands. An exact cylinder would leave no room for leakage between its smooth and true surface and the piston; but the solution of another difficulty was not so easily indicated. Watt having closed the top of the cylinder to save steam, was debarred from using water on the upper surface of the piston as Newcomen did, to fill the interstices between piston and cylinder and prevent leakage of steam, as his piston was round and passed through the top of the cylinder. The model leaked badly from this cause, and while engaged trying numerous expedients to meet this, and many different things for stuffing, he wrote to a friend, "My old White Iron man is dead." This being the one he had trained to be his best mechanic, was a grievous loss in those days. Misfortunes never come singly; he had just started the engine after overhauling it, when the beam broke. Discouraged, but not defeated, he battled on, steadily gaining ground, meeting and solving one difficulty after another, certain that he had discovered how to utilise steam.
PARTNERSHIP WITH ROEBUCK
Capital was essential to perfect and place the engine upon the market; it would require several thousand pounds. Had Watt been a rich man, the path would have been clear and easy, but he was poor, having no means but those derived from his instrument-making business, which for some time had necessarily been neglected. Where was the daring optimist who could be induced to risk so much in an enterprise of this character, where result was problematical. Here, Watt's best friend, Professor Black, who had himself from his own resources from time to time relieved Watt's pressing necessities, proved once more the friend in time of need. Black thought of Dr. Roebuck, founder of the celebrated Carron Iron Works near by, which Burns apostrophised in these lines, when denied admittance:
"We cam na here to view your works In hopes to be mair wise, But only lest we gang to hell It may be nae surprise."
He was approached upon the subject by Dr. Black, and finally, in September, 1765, he invited Watt to visit him with the Professor at his country home, and urged him to press forward his invention "whether he pursued it as a philosopher or as a man of business." In the month of November Watt sent Roebuck drawings of a covered cylinder and piston to be cast at his works, but it was so poorly done as to be useless. "My principal difficulty in making engines," he wrote Roebuck, "is always the smith-work."
By this time, Watt was seriously embarrassed for money. Experiments cost much and brought in nothing. His duty to his family required that he should abandon these for a time and labor for means to support it. He determined to begin as a surveyor, as he had mastered the art when making surveying instruments, as was his custom to study and master wherever he touched. He could never rest until he knew all there was to know about anything. Of course he succeeded. Everybody knew he would, and therefore business came to him. Even a public body, the magistrates of Glasgow, had not the slightest hesitation in obtaining his services to survey a canal which was to open a new coal field. He was also commissioned to survey the proposed Forth and Clyde canal. Had he been content to earn money and become leading surveyor or engineer of Britain, the world might have waited long for the forthcoming giant destined to do the world's work; but there was little danger of this. The world had not a temptation that could draw Watt from his appointed work. His thoughts were ever with his engine, every spare moment being devoted to it. Roebuck's speculative and enterprising nature led him also into the entrancing field of steam. It haunted him until finally, in 1767, he decided to pay off Watt's debts to the amount of a thousand pounds, provide means for further experiments, and secure a patent for the engine. In return, he became owner of two thirds of the invention.
Next year Watt made trial of a new and larger model, with unsatisfactory results upon the first trial. He wrote Roebuck that "by an unforeseen misfortune, the mercury found its way into the cylinder and played the devil with the solder." Only after a month's hard labor was the second trial made, with very different and indeed astonishing results—"success to my heart's content," exclaimed Watt. Now he would pay his long-promised debt to his partner Roebuck, to whom he wrote, "I sincerely wish you joy of this successful result, and hope it will make some return for the obligations I owe you." The visit of congratulation paid to his partner Roebuck, was delightful. Now were all their griefs "in the deep bosom of the ocean buried" by this recent success. Already they saw fortunes in their hands, so brightly shone the sun these few but happy days. But the old song has its lesson:
"I've seen the morning the gay hills adorning, I've seen it storming before the close of day."
Instead of instant success, trying days and years were still before them. A patent was decided upon, a matter of course and almost of formality in our day, but far from this at that time, when it was considered monopolistic and was highly unpopular on that account. Watt went to Berwick-on-Tweed to make the required declaration before a Master in Chancery. In August, 1768, we find him in London about the patent, where he became so utterly wearied with the delays, and so provoked with the enormous fees required to protect the invention, that he wrote his wife in a most despairing mood. She administered the right medicine in reply, "I beg you will not make yourself uneasy though things do not succeed as you wish. If the engine will not do, something else will; never despair." Happy man whose wife is his best doctor. From the very summit of elation, to which he had been raised by the success of the model, Watt was suddenly cast down into the valley of despair to find that only half of his heavy task was done, and the hill of difficulty still loomed before. Reaction took place, and the fine brain, so long strained to utmost tension, refused at intervals to work at high pressure. He became subject to recurring fits of despondency, aggravated, if not primarily caused by anxiety for his family, who could not be maintained unless he engaged in work yielding prompt returns.