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Watt, the Inventor and Discoverer



N the foregoing pages an effort has been made to


follow and describe Watt's work in detail as it was performed, but we believe our readers will thank us for presenting the opinions of a few of the highest scientific and legal authorities upon what Watt really did. Lord Brougham has this to say of Watt:

One of the most astonishing circumstances in this truly great man was the versatility of his talents. His accomplishments were so various, the powers of his mind were so vast, and yet of such universal application, that it was hard to say whether we should most admire the extraordinary grasp of his understanding, or the accuracy of nice research with which he could bring it to bear upon the most minute objects of investigation. I forget of whom it was said, that his mind resembled the trunk of an elephant, which can pick up straws and tear up trees by the roots. Mr. Watt in some sort resembled the greatest and most celebrated of his own inventions; of which we are at a loss whether most to wonder at the power of grappling with the mightiest objects, or of handling the most minute; so that while nothing seems too large for its grasp, nothing seems too small for the delicacy of its touch; which can cleave rocks and pour forth rivers from the bowels of the earth, and with perfect exactness, though not with greater ease, fashion the head of a pin, or strike the impress of some curious die. Now those who knew Mr. Watt, had to contemplate a man whose genius could create such an engine, and indulge in the most abstruse speculations of philosophy, and could at once pass from the most

sublime researches of geology and physical astronomy, the formation of our globe, and the structure of the universe, to the manufacture of a needle or a nail; who could discuss in the same conversation, and with equal accuracy, if not with the same consummate skill, the most forbidding details of art, and the elegances of classical literature; the most abstruse branches of science, and the niceties of verbal criticism.

There was one quality in Mr. Watt which most honorably distinguished him from too many inventors, and was worthy of all imitation; he was not only entirely free from jealousy, but he exercised a careful and scrupulous self-denial, and was anxious not to appear, even by accident, as appropriating to himself that which he thought belonged in part to others. I have heard him refuse the honor universally ascribed to him, of being inventor of the steam-engine, and call himself simply its improver; though, in my mind, to doubt his right to that honor would be as inaccurate as to question Sir Isaac Newton's claim to his greatest discoveries, because Descartes in mathematics, and Galileo in astronomy and mechanics, had preceded him; or to deny the merits of his illustrious successor, because galvanism was not his discovery, though before his time it had remained as useless to science as the instrument called a steam-engine was to the arts before Mr. Watt. The only jealousy I have known him betray was with respect to others, in the nice adjustment he was fond of giving to the claims of inventors. Justly prizing scientific discovery above all other possessions, he deemed the title to it so sacred, that you might hear him arguing by the hour to settle disputed rights; and if you ever perceived his temper ruffled, it was when one man's invention was claimed by, or given to, another; or when a clumsy adulation pressed upon himself that which he knew to be not his own.

Sir Humphrey Davy says:

I consider it as a duty incumbent on me to endeavor to set forth his peculiar and exalted merits, which live in the recollection of his contemporaries and will transmit his name with immortal glory to posterity. Those who consider James Watt only as a

great practical mechanic form a very erroneous idea of his character; he was equally distinguished as a natural philosopher and a chemist, and his inventions demonstrate his profound knowledge of those sciences, and that peculiar characteristic of genius, the union of them for practical application. The steam engine before his time was a rude machine, the result of simple experiments on the compression of the atmosphere, and the condensation of steam. Mr. Watt's improvements were not produced by accidental circumstances or by a single ingenious thought; they were founded on delicate and refined experiments, connected with the discoveries of Dr. Black. He had to investigate the cause of the cold produced by evaporation, of the heat occasioned by the condensation of steam-to determine the source of the air appearing when water was acted upon by an exhausting power; the ratio of the volume of steam to its generating water, and the law by which the elasticity of steam increased with the temperature; labor, time, numerous and difficult experiments, were required for the ultimate result; and when his principle was obtained, the application of it to produce the movement of machinery demanded a new species of intellectual and experimental labor.

The Archimedes of the ancient world by his mechanical inventions arrested the course of the Romans, and stayed for a time the downfall of his country. How much more has our modern Archimedes done? He has permanently elevated the strength and wealth of his great empire: and, during the last long war, his inventions; and their application were amongst the great means which enabled Britain to display power and resources so infinitely above what might have been expected from the numerical strength of her population. Archimedes valued principally abstract science; James Watt, on the contrary, brought every principle to some practical use; and, as it were, made science descend from heaven to earth. The great inventions of the Syracusan died with him— those of our philosopher live, and their utility and importance are daily more felt; they are among the grand results which place civilised above savage man-which secure the triumph of intellect, and exalt genius and moral force over mere brutal strength, courage and numbers.

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