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Watt, the Man




F Watt, the genius, possessed of abilities far beyond those of other men, a scientist and philosopher, a mechanician and a craftsman, one who gravitated without effort to the top of every society, and who, even when a young workman, made his workshop the meeting-place of the leaders of Glasgow University for the interchange of views upon the highest and most abstruse subjects-with all this we have already dealt, but it is only part, and not the nobler part. He excelled all his fellows in knowledge, but there is much beyond mere knowledge in man. Strip Watt of all those commanding talents that brought him primacy without effort, for no man ever avoided precedence more persistently than he, and the question still remains: what manner of man was he, as man? Surely our readers would esteem the task but half done that revealed only what was unusual in Watt's head. What of his heart? is naturally asked. We hasten to record that in the domain of the personal graces and virtues, we have evidence of his excellence as copious and assured as for his pre-eminence in invention and discovery. We cite the testimony of those who knew him best.

It is seldom that a great man is so fortunate in his eulogists. The picture drawn of him by his friend, Lord Jeffrey, must rank as one of the finest ever produced, as portrait and tribute combined. That it is a discriminating statement, altho so eulogistic, may well be accepted, since numerous contributory proofs are given by others of Watt's personal characteristics. Says Lord Jeffrey:

Independently of his great attainments in mechanics, Mr. Watt was an extraordinary, and in many respects a wonderful man. Perhaps no individual in his age possessed so much and such varied and exact information-had read so much, or remembered what he had read so accurately and well. He had infinite quickness of apprehension, a prodigious memory, and a certain rectifying and methodising power of understanding, which extracted something precious out of all that was presented to it. His stores of miscellaneous knowledge were immense, and yet less astonishing than the command he had at all times over them. It seemed as if every subject that was casually started in conversation with him, had been that which he had been last occupied in studying and exhausting; such was the copiousness, the precision, and the admirable clearness of the information which he poured out upon it without effort or hesitation. Nor was this promptitude and compass of knowledge confined in any degree to the studies connected with his ordinary pursuits. That he should have been minutely and extensively skilled in chemistry and the arts, and in most of the branches of physical science, might perhaps have been conjectured; but it could not have been inferred from his usual occupations, and probably is not generally known, that he was curiously learned in many branches of antiquity, metaphysics, medicine, and etymology, and perfectly at home in all the details of architecture, music and law. He was well acquainted, too, with most of the modern languages, and familiar with their most recent literature. Nor was it at all extraordinary to hear the great

mechanician and engineer detailing and expounding, for hours together, the metaphysical theories of the German logicians, or criticising the measures or the matter of the German poetry.

His astonishing memory was aided, no doubt, in a great measure, by a still higher and rarer faculty-by his power of digesting and arranging in its proper place all the information he received, and of casting aside and rejecting, as it were instinctively, whatever was worthless or immaterial. Every conception that was suggested to his mind seemed instantly to take its place among its other rich furniture, and to be condensed into the smallest and most convenient form. He never appeared, therefore, to be at all encumbered or perplexed with the verbiage of the dull books he perused, or the idle talk to which he listened; but to have at once extracted, by a kind of intellectual alchemy, all that was worthy of attention, and to have reduced it, for his own use, to its true value and to its simplest form. And thus it often happened that a great deal more was learned from his brief and vigorous account of the theories and arguments of tedious writers, than an ordinary student could ever have derived from the most painful study of the originals, and that errors and absurdities became manifest from the mere clearness and plainness of his statement of them, which might have deluded and perplexed most of his hearers without that invaluable assistance.

It is needless to say, that, with those vast resources, his conversation was at all times rich and instructive in no ordinary degree; but it was, if possible, still more pleasing than wise, and had all the charms of familiarity, with all the substantial treasures of knowledge. No man could be more social in his spirit, less assuming or fastidious in his manners, or more kind and indulgent toward all who approached him. He rather liked to talk, at least in his latter years, but though he took a considerable share of the conversation, he rarely suggested the topics on which it was to turn, but readily and quietly took up whatever was presented by those around him, and astonished the idle and barren propounders of an ordinary theme, by the treasures which he drew from the mine they had inconsciously opened. He generally seemed, indeed, to have no choice or predilection for one subject of discourse rather than another; but allowed his mind, like a great cyclopædia, to be

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