After Watt was restored to himself the first subject which we find attracting him was the misfortunes of Roebuck, whose affairs were now in the hands of his creditors. "My heart bleeds for him," says Watt, "but I can do nothing to help him. I have stuck by him, indeed, until I have hurt myself." Roebuck's affairs were far too vast to be affected by all that Watt had or could have borrowed. For the thousand pounds Watt had paid on Roebuck's account to secure the patent, he was still in debt to Black. This was subsequently paid, however, with interest, when Watt became prosperous.
We now bid farewell to Roebuck with genuine regret. He had proved himself a fine character throughout, just the kind of partner Watt needed. It was a great pity that he had to relinquish his interest in the patent, when, as we shall see, it would soon have saved him from bankruptcy and secured him a handsome competence. He must ever rank as one of the men almost indispensable to Watt in the development of his engine, and a dear, true friend.
The darkest hour comes before the dawn, and so it proved here. As Roebuck retired, there appeared a star of hope of the first magnitude, in no less a person than the celebrated Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, of whom we must say a few words by way of introduction to our readers, for in all the world there was not his equal as a partner for Watt, who was ever fortunate in his friends. Of course Watt was sure to have friends, for he was through and through the devoted friend himself, and won the hearts of those worth winning. "If you wish to make a friend, be one," is the sure recipe.
Boulton was not only obviously the right man but he came from the right place, for Birmingham was the headquarters of mechanical industry. At this time, 1776, there was at last a good road to London. As late as 1747 the coach was advertised to run there in two days only "if the roads permit."
If skilled mechanics, Watt's greatest need, were to be found anywhere, it was here in the centre of mechanical skill, and especially was it in the celebrated works of Boulton, which had been bequeathed from worthy sire to worthy son, to be largely extended and more than ever preeminent.
Boulton left school early to engage in his father's business. When only
seventeen years old, he had made several improvements in the manufacture of buttons, watch chains, and various trinkets, and had invented the inlaid steel buckles, which became so fashionable. It is stated that in that early day it was found necessary to export them in large quantities to France to be returned and sold in Britain as the latest productions of French skill and taste. It is well to get a glimpse of human nature as seen here. Fashion decides for a time with supreme indifference to quality. It is a question of the name.
At his father's death, the son inherited the business. Great credit belongs to him for unceasingly laboring to improve the quality of his products and especially to raise the artistic standard, then so low as to have already caused "Brummagem" to become a term of reproach. He not only selected the cleverest artisans, but he employed the best artists, Flaxman being one, to design the artistic articles produced. The natural result followed. Boulton's work soon gained high reputation. New and larger factories became necessary, and the celebrated Soho works arose in 1762. The spirit in which Boulton pursued business is revealed in a letter to his partner at Soho from London. "The prejudice that Birmingham hath so justly established against itself makes every fault conspicuous in all articles that have the least pretensions to taste." It may interest American readers familiar with One Dollar watches, rendered possible by production upon a large scale, that it was one of Boulton's leading ideas in that early day that articles in common use could be produced much better and cheaper "if manufactured by the help of the best machinery upon a large scale, and this could be successfully done in the making of clocks and timepieces." He promptly erected the machinery and started this new branch of business. Both King and Queen received him cordially and became his patrons. Soho works soon became famous and one of the show places of the country; princes, philosophers, poets, authors and merchants from foreign lands visited them and were hospitably received by Boulton.
He was besieged with requests to take gentlemen apprentices into the works, hundreds of pounds sometimes being offered as premium, but he resolutely declined, preferring to employ boys whom he could train up as workmen. He replies to a gentleman applicant, "I have built and furnished a house for the reception of one class of apprentices--fatherless children, parish apprentices, and hospital boys; and gentlemen's sons would probably find themselves out of place in such companionship."
It is not to be inferred that Boulton grew up an uncultured man because he left school very early. On the contrary, he steadily educated himself, devoting much time to study, so that with his good looks, handsome presence, the manners of the gentleman born, and knowledge much beyond the average of that class, he had little difficulty in winning for his wife a lady of such position in the county as led to some opposition on the part of members of her family to the suitor, but only "on account of his being in trade." There exists no survival of this objection in these days of American alliances with heirs of the highest British titles. We seem now to have as its substitute the condition that the father of the bride must be in trade and that heavily and to some purpose.
Boulton, like most busy men, had time, and an open mind, for new ideas. None at this time interested him so deeply as that of the steam engine. Want of water-power proved a serious difficulty at Soho. He wrote to a friend, "The enormous expense of the horse-power" (it was also irregular and sometimes failed) "put me upon thinking of turning the mill by fire. I made many fruitless experiments on the subject."
Boulton wrote Franklin, February 22, 1766, in London, about this, and sent a model he had made. Franklin replies a month later, apologizing for the delay on account of "the hurry and anxiety I have been engaged in with our American affairs."
Tamer of lightning and tamer of steam, Franklin and Watt--one of the new, the other of the old branch of our English-speaking race--co-operating in enlarging the powers of man and pushing forward the chariot of progress--fit subject, this, for the sculptor and painter!
How much further the steam engine is to be the hand-maid of electricity cannot be told, for it seems impossible to set limits to the future conquests of the latter, which is probably destined to perform miracles un-dreamt of to-day, perhaps coupled in some unthought-of way, with radium, the youngest sprite of the weird, uncanny tribe of mysterious agents. Uranium, the supposed basis of the latest discovery, Radium, has only one-millionth part of the heat of the latter. The slow-moving earth takes twenty-four hours to turn upon its axis. Radium covers an equal distance while we pronounce its name. One and one-quarter seconds, and twenty-five thousand miles are traversed. Puck promises to put his "girdle round the earth in forty minutes." Radium would pass the fairy girdlist in the spin round sixteen hundred times. Thus truth, as it is being evolved in our day, becomes stranger than the wildest imaginings of fiction. Our century seems on the threshold of discoveries and advances, not less revolutionary, perhaps more so, than those that have sprung from steam and electricity. "Canst thou send lightning’s to say 'Lo, here I am'?" silenced man. It was so obviously beyond his power until last century. Now he smiles as he reads the question. Is Tyndal's prophecy to be verified that "the potency of all things is yet to be found in matter"?
We may be sure the searching, restless brains of Franklin and Watt would have been meditating upon strange things these days if they were now alive.
Boulton is entitled to rank, so far as the writer knows, as the first man in the world worthy to wear Carlyle's now somewhat familiar title, "Captain of Industry" for he was in his day foremost in the industrial field, and before that, industrial organizations had not developed far enough to create or require captains, in Carlyle's sense.
Roebuck, while Watt's partner, was one of Boulton's correspondents, and told him of Watt's progress with the model engine which proved so successful. Boulton was deeply interested, and expressed a desire that Watt should visit him at Soho. This he did, on his return from a visit to London concerning the patent. Boulton was not at home, but his intimate friend, Dr. Small, then residing at Birmingham, a scientist and philosopher, whom Franklin had recommended to Boulton, took Watt in charge. Watt was amazed at what he saw, for this was his first meeting with trained and skilled mechanics, the lack of whom had made his life miserable. The precision of both tools and workmen sank deep. Upon a subsequent visit, he met the captain himself, his future partner, and of course, as like draws to like, they drew to each other, a case of mutual liking at first sight. We meet one stranger, and stranger he remains to the end of the chapter. We meet another, and ere we part he is a kindred soul. Magnetic attraction is sudden. So with these two, who, by a kind of free-masonry, knew that each had met his affinity. The Watt engine was exhaustively canvassed and its inventor was delighted that the great, sagacious, prudent and practical manufacturer should predict its success as he did. Shortly after this, Professor Robison visited Soho, which was a magnet that attracted the scientists in those days. Boulton told him that he had stopped work upon his proposed pumping engine. "I would necessarily avail myself of what I learned from Mr. Watt's conversation, and this would not be right without his consent."
It is such a delicate sense of honor as is here displayed that marks the man, and finally makes his influence over others commanding in business. It is not sharp practice and smart bargaining that tell. On the contrary, there is no occupation in which not only fair but liberal dealing brings greater reward. The best bargain is that good for both parties. Boulton and Watt were friends. That much was settled. They had business transactions later, for we find Watt sending a package containing "one dozen German flutes" (made of course by him in Glasgow), "at 5s. each, and a copper digester, _L_1:10." Boulton's people probably wished samples.
Much correspondence followed between Dr. Small and Watt, the latter constantly expressing the wish that Mr. Boulton could be induced to become partner with himself and Roebuck in his patents. Naturally the sagacious manufacturer was disinclined to associate himself with Mr. Roebuck, then in financial straits, but the position changed when he had become bankrupt and affairs were in the hands of creditors. Watt therefore renewed the subject and agreed to go and settle in Birmingham, as he had been urged to do. Roebuck's pitiable condition he keenly felt, and had done everything possible to ameliorate.
What little I can do for him is purchased by denying myself the conveniences of life my station requires, or by remaining in debt, which it galls me to the bone to owe. I shall be content to hold a very small share in the partnership, or none at all, provided I am to be freed from my pecuniary obligations to Roebuck and have any kind of recompense for even a part of the anxiety and ruin it has involved me in.
Thus wrote Watt to his friend Small, August 30, 1772. Small's reply pointed out one difficulty which deserves notice and commendation. "It is impossible for Mr. Boulton and me, or any other honest man, to purchase, especially from two particular friends, what has no market price, and at a time when they might be inclined to part with the commodity at an under value." This is an objection which to stock-exchange standards may seem "not well taken," and far too fantastical for the speculative domain, and yet it is neither surprising nor unusual in the realms of genuine business, in which men are concerned with or creating only intrinsic values.
The result so ardently desired by Watt was reached in this unexpected fashion. It was found that in the ordinary course of business Roebuck owed Boulton a balance of $6,000. Boulton agreed to take the Roebuck interest in the Watt patent for the debt. As the creditors considered the patent interest worthless, they gladly accepted. As Watt said, "it was only paying one bad debt with another."
Boulton asked Watt to act as his attorney in the matter, which he did, writing Boulton that "the thing is now a shadow; 'tis merely ideal, and will cost time and money to realize it." This as late as March 29, 1773, after eight years of constant experimentation, with many failures and disappointments, since the discovery of the separate condenser in 1765, which was then hailed, and rightly so, as the one thing needed. It remained the right and only foundation upon which to develop the steam engine, but many minor obstacles intervened, requiring Watt's inventive and mechanical genius to overcome.
The transfer of Roebuck's two-third interest to Boulton afterward carried with it the formation of the celebrated firm of Boulton and Watt. The latter arranged his affairs as quickly as possible. He had only made $1,000 for a whole year spent in surveying, and part of that he gave to Roebuck in his necessity, "so that I can barely support myself and keep untouched the small sum I have allotted for my visit to you." (Watt to Small, July 25, 1773). This is pitiable indeed--Watt pressed for money to pay his way to Birmingham upon important business.
The trial engine was shipped from Kinneil to Soho and Watt arrived in May, 1774, in Birmingham. Here a new life opened before him, still enveloped in clouds, but we may please ourselves by believing that through these the wearied and harassed inventor did not fail to catch alluring visions of the sun. Let us hope he remembered the words of the beautiful hymn he had no doubt often sung in his youth:
"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break With blessings on your head."
Partnership requires not duplicates, but opposites--a union of different qualities. He who proves indispensable as a partner to one man might be wholly useless, or even injurious, to another. Generals Grant and Sherman needed very different chiefs of staff. One secret of Napoleon's success arose from his being free to make his own appointments, choosing
the men who had the qualities which supplemented his and cured his own shortcomings, for every man has shortcomings. The universal genius who can manage all himself has yet to appear. Only one with the genius to recognize others of different genius and harness them to his own car can approach the "universal." It is a case of different but cooperating abilities, each part of the complicated machine fitting into its right place, and there performing its duty without jarring.
Never were two men more "supplementary" to each other than Boulton and Watt, and hence their success. One possessed in perfection the qualities the other lacked. Smiles sums this up so finely that we must quote him:
Different though their characters were in most respects, Boulton at once conceived a hearty liking for him. The one displayed in perfection precisely those qualities which the other wanted. Boulton was a man of ardent and generous temperament, bold and enterprising, undaunted by difficulty, and possessing an almost boundless capacity for work. He was a man of great tact, clear perception, and sound judgment. Moreover, he possessed that indispensable quality of perseverance, without which the best talents are of comparatively little avail in the conduct of important affairs. While Watt hated business, Boulton loved it. He had, indeed, a genius for business--a gift almost as rare as that for poetry, for art, or for war. He possessed a marvelous power of organization. With a keen eye for details, he combined a comprehensive grasp of intellect. While his senses were so acute, that when sitting in his office at Soho he could detect the slightest stoppage or derangement in the machinery of that vast establishment, and send his message direct to the spot where it had occurred, his power of imagination was such as enabled him to look clearly along extensive lines of possible action in Europe, America, and the East. _For there is a poetic as well as a commonplace side to business; and the man of business genius lights up the humdrum routine of daily life by exploring the boundless region of possibility wherever it may lie open before him._
This tells the whole story, and once again reminds us that without imagination and something of the romantic element, little great or valuable is to be done in any field. He "runs his business as if it were a romance," was said upon one occasion. The man who finds no element of romance in his occupation is to be pitied. We know how radically different Watt was in his nature to Boulton, whose judgment of men was said to be almost unerring. He recognized in Watt at their first interview, not only the original inventive genius, but the indefatigable, earnest, plodding and thorough mechanic of tenacious grip, and withal a fine, modest, true man, who hated bargaining and all business affairs, who cared nothing for wealth beyond a very modest provision for old age, and who was only happy if so situated that without anxiety for money to supply frugal wants, he could devote his life to the development of the steam engine. Thus auspiciously started the new firm.
But Boulton was more than a man of business, continues Smiles; he was a man of culture, and the friend of educated men. His hospitable mansion at Soho was the resort of persons eminent in art, in literature, and in science; and the love and admiration with which he inspired such men affords one of the best proofs of his own elevation of character. Among the most intimate of his friends and associates were Richard Lovell Edgeworth, a gentleman of fortune, enthusiastically devoted to his long-conceived design of moving land-carriages by steam; Captain Keir, an excellent practical chemist, a wit and a man of learning; Dr. Small, the accomplished physician, chemist and mechanist; Josiah Wedgwood, the practical philosopher and manufacturer, founder of a new and important branch of skilled industry; Thomas Day, the ingenious author of "Sandford and Merton"; Dr. Darwin, the poet-physician; Dr. Withering, the botanist; besides others who afterward joined the Soho circle, not the least distinguished of whom were Joseph Priestley and James Watt.
The first business in hand was the reconstruction of the engine brought from Kinneil, which upon trial performed much better than before, wholly on account of the better workmanship attainable at Soho; but there still recurs the unceasing complaint that runs throughout the long eight years of trial--lack of accurate tools and skilled workmen, the difference in accuracy between the blacksmith standard and that of the mathematical-instrument maker. Watt and Boulton alike agreed that the inventions were scientifically correct and needed only proper construction. In our day it is not easy to see the apparently insuperable difficulty of making anything to scale and perfectly accurate, but we forget what the world of Watt was and how far we have advanced since.
Watt wrote to his father at Greenock, November, 1774: "The business I am here about has turned out rather successful; that is to say, the fire-engine I have invented is now going, and answers much better than any other that has yet been made." This is as is usual with the Scotch in speech, in a low key and extremely modest, on a par with the verdict rendered by the Dunfermline critic who had ventured to attend "the playhouse" in Edinburgh to see Garrick in Hamlet--"no bad." The truth was that, so pronounced were the results of proper workmanship, coupled with some of those improvements which Watt was constantly devising, the engine was so satisfactory as to set both Boulton and Watt to thinking about the patent which protected the invention. Six of the fourteen years for which it was granted had already passed. Some years would still be needed to ensure its general use, and it was feared that before the patent expired little return might be received. Much interest was aroused by the successful trial. Enquiries began to pour in for pumping engines for mines. The Newcomen had proved inadequate to work the mines as they became deeper, and many were being abandoned in consequence. The necessity for a new power had set many ingenious men to work besides Watt, and some of these were trying to adopt Watt's principles while avoiding his patent. Hatley, one of Watt's workmen upon the trial engine at the Carron works, had stolen and sold the drawings.
All this put Boulton and Watt on their guard, and the former hesitated to build the new works intended for the manufacture of steam engines upon a large scale with improved machinery. An extension of the patent seemed essential, and to secure this Watt proceeded to London and spent some time there, busy in his spare moments visiting the mathematical instrument shops of his youth, and attending to numerous commissions from Boulton. A second visit was paid to London, during which the sad intelligence of the death of his dear friend, Dr. Small, reached him. In the bitterness of his grief, Boulton writes him: "If there were not a few other objects yet remaining for me to settle my affections upon, I should wish also to take up my abode in the mansions of the dead." Watt's sympathetic reply reminds Boulton of the sentiments held by their departed friend--that, instead of indulging in unavailing sorrow, the best refuge is the more sedulous performance of duties. "Come, my dear sir," he writes, "and immerse yourself in this sea of business as soon as possible. Pay a proper respect to your friend by obeying his precepts. No endeavor of mine shall be wanting to make life agreeable to you."
Beautiful partnership this, not only of business, but also entering into the soul close and deep, comprehending all of life and all we know of death.
Professor Small, born 1734, was a Scot, who went to Williamsburg University, Virginia, as Professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. Thomas Jefferson was among his pupils. His health suffered, and he returned to the old home. Franklin introduced him to Boulton, writing (May 22, 1765):
I beg leave to introduce my friend Doctor Small to your acquaintance, and to recommend him to your civilities. I would not take this freedom if I were not sure it would be agreeable to you; and that you will thank me for adding to the number of those who from their knowledge of you must respect you, one who is both an ingenious philosopher and a most worthy, honest man. If anything new in magnetism or electricity, or any other branch of natural knowledge, has occurred to your fruitful genius since I last had the pleasure of seeing you, you will by communicating it greatly oblige me.
This man must have been one of the finest characters revealed in Watt's life. Although he left little behind him to ensure permanent remembrance, the extraordinary tributes paid his memory by friends establish his right to high rank among the coterie of eminent men who surrounded Watt and Boulton. Boulton records that "there being nothing which I wish to fix in my mind so permanently as the remembrance of my dear departed friend, I did not delay to erect a memorial in the prettiest but most obscure part of my garden, from which you see the church in which he was interred." Dr. Darwin contributed the verses inscribed. Upon hearing of Small's illness Day hastened from Brussels to be present at the last hour.
Keir writes, announcing Small's death to his brother, the Rev. Robert Small, in Dundee, "It is needless to say how universally he is lamented; for no man ever enjoyed or deserved more the esteem of mankind. We loved him with the tenderest affection and shall ever revere his memory."
Watt's voluminous correspondence with Professor Small, previous to his partnership with Boulton, proves Small at that time to have been his intimate friend and counselor. We scarcely know in all literature of a closer union between two men. Many verses of Tennyson's Memorial to Hallam could be appropriately applied to their friendship. Watt did not apparently give way to lamentations as Boulton and others did who were present at Small's death, probably because the receipt of Boulton's heart-breaking letter impressed Watt with the need of assuming the part of comforter to his partner, who was face to face with death, and had to bear the direct blow. Watt's tribute to his dear friend came later.
Future operations necessarily depended upon the extension of the patent. Boulton, of course, could not proceed with the works. There was as yet no agreement between Watt and Boulton beyond joint ownership in the patent. At this time, Watt's most intimate friend of youthful years in Glasgow University, Professor Robison, was Professor of mathematics in the Government Naval School, Kronstadt. He secured for Watt an appointment at $5,000 per annum, a fortune to the poor inventor; but although this would have relieved him from dependence upon Boulton, and meant future affluence, he declined, alleging that "Boulton's favors were so gracefully conferred that dependence on him was not felt." He made Watt feel "that the obligation was entirely upon the side of the giver." Truly we must canonize Boulton. He was not only the first "Captain of Industry," but also a model for all others to follow.
The bill extending the patent was introduced in Parliament February, 1775. Opposition soon developed. The mining interest was in serious trouble owing to the deepening of the mines and the unbearable expense of pumping the water. They had looked forward to the Watt engine soon to be free of patent rights to relieve them. "No monopoly," was their cry, nor were they without strong support, for Edmund Burke pleaded the cause of his mining constituents near Bristol.
We need not follow the discussion that ensued upon the propriety of granting the patent extension. Suffice to say it was finally granted for a term of twenty-four years, and the path was clear at last. Britain was to have probably for the first time great works and new tools specially designed for a specialty to be produced upon a large scale. Boulton had arranged to pay Roebuck $5,000 out of the first profits from the patent in addition to the $6,000 of debt cancelled. He now anticipated payment of the thousand, at the urgent request of Roebuck's assignees, giving in so doing pretty good evidence of his faith in prompt returns from the engines, for which orders came pouring in. New mechanical facilities followed, as well as a supply of skilled mechanics.
The celebrated Wilkinson now appears upon the scene, first builder of iron boats, and a leading iron-founder of his day, an original Captain of Industry of the embryonic type, who began working in a forge for three dollars a week. He cast a cylinder eighteen inches in diameter, and invented a boring machine which bored it accurately, thus remedying one of Watt's principal difficulties. This cylinder was substituted for the tin-lined cylinder of the triumphant Kinneil engine. Satisfactory as were the results of the engine before, the new cylinder improved upon these greatly. Thus Wilkinson was pioneer in iron ships, and also in ordering the first engine built at Soho--truly an enterprising man. Great pains were taken by Watt that this should be perfect, as so much depended upon a successful start. Many concerns suspended work upon Newcomen engines, countermanded orders, or refrained from placing them, awaiting anxiously the performance of this heralded wonder, the Watt engine. As it approached completion, Watt became impatient to test its powers, but the prudent, calm Boulton insisted that not one stroke be made until every possible hindrance to successful working had been removed. He adds, "then, in the name of God, fall to and do your best." Admirable order of battle! It was "Be sure you're right, then go ahead," in the vernacular. Watt acted upon this, and when the trial came the engines worked "to the admiration of all." The news of this spread rapidly. Enquiries and orders for engines began to flow in. No wonder when we read that of thirty engines of former makers in one coal-mining district only eighteen were at work. The others had failed. Boulton wrote Watt to
tell Wilkinson to get a dozen cylinders cast and bored ... I have fixed my mind upon making from twelve to fifteen reciprocating engines and fifty rotative engines per annum. Of all the toys and trinkets we manufacture at Soho, none shall take the place of fire-engines in respect of my attention.
The captain was on deck, evidently. Sixty-five engines per year--prodigious for these days--nothing like this was ever heard of before. Two thousand per year is the record of one firm in Philadelphia to-day, but let us boast not. Perhaps one hundred and twenty-nine years hence will have as great a contrast to show. The day of small factories, as of small nations, is past. Increasing magnitude, to which it is hard to set a limit, is the order of the day.
So far all was well, the heavy clouds that had so long hovered menacingly over Boulton and Watt had been displaced once more by clear skies. But no new machinery or new manufacturing business starts without accidents, delays and unexpected difficulties. There was necessarily a long period of trial and disappointment for which the sanguine partners were not prepared. As before, the chief trouble lay in the lack of skilled workmen, for although the few original men in Soho were remarkably efficient, the increased demand for engines had compelled the employment of many new hands, and the work they could perform was sadly defective. Till this time, it is to be remembered there had been neither slide lathes, planing machines, boring tools, nor any of the many other devices which now ensure accuracy. All depended upon the mechanics' eye and hand, if mechanics they could be called. Most of the new hands were inexpert and much given to drink.
Specialization had to be resorted to--one thing for each workman, in the fashioning of which practice made perfect. This system was introduced with success, but the training of the men took time. Meanwhile work already turned out and that in progress was not up to standard, and this caused infinite trouble. One very important engine was "The Bow" for London, which was shipped in September. The best of the experts, Joseph Harrison, was sent to superintend its erection. Verbal instructions Watt would not depend upon; Harrison was supplied in writing with detailed particulars covering every possible contingency. Constant communication between them was kept up by letter, for the engine did not work satisfactorily, and finally Watt himself proceeded to London in November and succeeded in overcoming the defects. Harrison's anxieties disabled him, and Boulton wrote to Dr. Fordyce, a celebrated doctor of that day, telling him to take good care of Harrison, "let the expense be what it will." Watt writes Boulton that Harrison must not leave London, as "a relapse of the engine would ruin our reputation here and elsewhere." The Bow engine had a relapse, however, which happened in this way. Smeaton, then the greatest of the engineers, requested Boulton's London agent to take him to see the new engine. He carefully examined it, called it a "very pretty engine," but thought it too complicated a piece of machinery for practical use. There was apparently much to be said for this opinion, for we clearly see that Watt was far in advance of his day in mechanical requirements. Hence his serious difficulties in the construction of the complex engine, and in finding men capable of doing the delicately accurate work which was absolutely indispensable for successful working.
Before leaving, Smeaton made the engineer a gift of money, which he spent in drink. The drunken engineman let the engine run wild, and it was thrown completely out of order. The valves--the part of the complicated machine that required the most careful treatment--were broken. He was dismissed, and, repairs being made, the engine worked satisfactorily at last. In Watt's life, we meet drunkenness often as a curse of the time. We have the satisfaction of knowing that our day is much freer from it. We have certainly advanced in the cure of this evil, for our working-men may now be regarded as on the whole a steady sober class, especially in America, where intemperance has not to be reckoned with.
We see the difference between the reconstructed Kinneil engine where Boulton's "mathematical instrument maker's" standard of workmanship was possible "because his few trained men capable of such work were employed." The Kinneil engine, complicated as it was in its parts, being thus accurately reconstructed, did the work expected and more. The Bow engines and some others of the later period, constructed by ordinary workmen capable only of the "blacksmith's" standard of finish, proved sources of infinite trouble.
Watt had several cases of this kind to engross his attention, all traceable to the one root, lack of the skilled, sober workmen, and the tools of precision which his complex (for his day, very complex) steam engine required. The truth is that Watt's engine in one sense was born before its time. Our class of instrument-making mechanics and several new tools should have preceded it; then, the science of the invention being sound, its construction would have been easy. The partners continued working in the right direction and in the right way to create these needful additions and were finally successful, but they found that success brought another source of annoyance. Escaping Scylla they struck Charybdis. So high did the reputation of their chief workmen rise, that they were early sought after and tempted to leave their positions. Even the two trained fitters sent to London to cure the Bow engine we have just spoken of were offered strong inducements to take positions in Russia. Watt writes Boulton, May 3, 1777, that he had just heard a great secret to the effect that Carless and Webb were probably going beyond sea, $5,000 per year having been offered for six years. They were promptly ordered home to Soho and warrants obtained for those who had attempted to induce them to abscond (strange laws these days!), "even though Carless be a drunken and comparatively useless fellow." Consider Watt's task, compelled to attempt the production of his new engines, complicated beyond the highest existing standard, without proper tools and with such workmen as Carless, whom he was glad to get and determined to keep, drunken and useless as he was.
French agents appeared and tried to bribe some of the men to go to Paris and communicate Watt's plans to the contractor who had undertaken to pump water from the Seine for the supply of Paris. The German states sent emissaries for a similar purpose, and Baron Stein was specially ordered by his government to master the secret of the Watt engine, to obtain working plans, and bring away workmen capable of constructing it, the first step taken being to obtain access to the engine-rooms by bribing the workmen. All this is so positively stated by Smiles that we must assume that he quotes from authentic records. It is clear at all
events that the attention of other nations was keenly drawn to the advent of an agency that promised to revolutionize existing conditions. Watt himself, at a critical part of his career (1773), as we have seen, had been tempted to accept an offer to enter the imperial service of Russia, carrying the then munificent salary of $5,000 per annum. Boulton wrote him: "Your going to Russia staggers me.... I wish to advise you for the best without regard to self, but I find I love myself so well that I should be very sorry to have you go, and I begin to repent sounding your trumpet at the Ambassador's."
The imperial family of Russia were then much interested in the Soho works. The empress stayed for some time at Boulton's house, "and a charming woman she is," writes her host. Here is a glimpse of imperial activity and wise attention to what was going on in other lands which it was most desirous to transplant to their own. The emperor, and no less his wife, evidently kept their eyes open during their travels abroad. Imperial progresses we fear are seldom devoted to such practical ends, although the present king of Britain and his nephew the German emperor would not be blind to such things. It is a strange coincidence that the successor of this emperor, Tsar Nicholas, when grand duke, should have been denied admission to Soho works. Not that he was personally objected to, but that certain people of his suite might not be disinclined to take advantage of any new processes discovered. So jealously were improvements guarded in these days.
Another source of care to the troubled Watt lay here. Naturally, only a few such men had been developed as could be entrusted to go to distant parts in charge of fellow-workmen and erect the finished engines. A union of many qualities was necessary here. Managers of erection had to be managers of men, by far the most complicated and delicate of all machinery, exceeding even the Watt engine in complexity. When the rare man was revealed, and the engine under his direction had proved itself the giant it was reputed, ensuring profitable return upon capital invested in works hitherto unproductive, as it often did, the sagacious owner would not readily consent to let the engineer leave. He could well afford to offer salary beyond the dreams of the worker, to a rider who knew his horse and to whom the horse took so kindly. The engineer loved _his_ engine, the engine which _he_ had seen grow in the shop under his direction and which _he_ had wholly erected.
McAndrew's Song of Steam tells the story of the engineer's devotion to his engine, a song which only Kipling in our day could sing. The Scotch blood of the MacDonalds was needed for that gem; Kipling fortunately has it pure from his mother. McAndrew is homeward bound patting _his_ mighty engine as she whirls, and crooning over his tale:
That minds me of our Viscount loon--Sir Kenneth's kin--the chap Wi' Russia leather tennis-shoon an' spar-decked yachtin'-cap. I showed him round last week, o'er all--an' at the last says he: "Mister M'Andrew, don't you think steam spoils romance at sea?" Damned ijjit! I'd been down that morn to see what ailed the throws, Manholin', on my back--the cranks three inches off my nose. Romance! Those first-class passengers they like it very well, Printed an' bound in little books; but why don't poets tell? I'm sick of all their quirks an' turns--the loves and doves they dream-- Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song o' Steam! To match wi' Scotia's noblest speech yon orchestra sublime, Whaurto--uplifted like the Just--the tail-rods mark the time. The crank-throws give the double-bass, the feed-pump sobs an' heaves, An' now the main eccentrics start their quarrel on the sheaves: Her time, her own appointed time, the rocking link-head bides, Till--hear that note?--the rod's return whings glimmerin' through the guides. They're all awa'! True beat, full power, the clanging' chorus goes Clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purrin' dynamos. Interdependence absolute, foreseen, ordained, decreed, To work, ye'll note, at any tilt an' every rate o' speed. Fra' skylight lift to furnace-bars, backed, bolted, braced an' stayed, An' singing' like the Morning' Stars for joy that they are made; While, out o' touch o' vanity, the sweating' thrust-block says: "Not unto us the praise, oh man, not unto us the praise!" Now, a' together, hear them lift their lesson--theirs an' mine: "Law, Order, Duty an' Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!" Mill, forge an' try-pit taught them that when roaring' they arose, An' whiles I wonder if a soul was gied them wi' the blows. Oh for a man to weld it then, in one trip-hammer strain, Till even first-class passengers could tell the meaning' plain! But no one cares except myself' that serve an' understand My seven-thousand horse-power here. Eh, Lord! They're grand--they're grand! Uplift am I? When first in store the new-made beasties stood, Were ye cast down that breathed the Word declaring' all things good? Not so! O' that world-lifting' joy no after-fall could vex, You’ve left a glimmer still to cheer the Man--the Artifex! _That_ holds, in spite o' knock and scale, o' friction, waste an' slip, An' by that light--now, mark my word--we'll build the Perfect Ship. I'll never last to judge her lines or take her curve--not I. But I ha' lived and I ha' worked. Be thanks to Thee, Most High!
So the McAndrews of Watt's day were loath to part from _their_ engines, this feeling being in the blood of true engineers. On the other hand, just such men, in numbers far beyond the supply, were needed by the builders, who in one sense were almost if not quite as deeply concerned as the owners, in having proved, capable, engine managers remain in charge of their engines, thus enhancing their reputation. Endless trouble ensued from the lack of managing enginemen, a class which had yet to be developed, but which was sure to arise in time through the educative policy adopted, which was already indeed slowly producing fruit.
Meanwhile, to meet the present situation, Watt resolved to simplify the engine, taking a step backward, which gives foundation for Smeaton's acute criticism upon its complexity. We have seen that the working of steam expansively was one of Watt's early inventions. Some of the new engines were made upon this plan, which involved the adoption of some of the most troublesome of the machinery. It was ultimately decided that to operate this was beyond the ability of the obtainable enginemen of the day.
It must not be understood that expansion was abandoned. On the contrary, it was again introduced by Watt at a later stage and in better form. Since his time it has extended far beyond what he could have ventured upon under the conditions of that day. "Yet," as Kelvin says, "the triple and quadruple expansion engine of our day all lies in the principle Watt had so fully developed in his day."
 If those in London had only listened to Franklin and taken his advice when he pleaded for British liberties for British subjects in America! It is refreshing to read in our day how completely the view regarding colonies has changed in Britain. These are now pronounced "Independent nations, free to go or stay in the empire, as they choose," the very surest way to prolong the connection. This is true statesmanship. Being free, the chains become decorations and cease to chafe the wearer, unless great growth comes, when the colony must at its maturity perforce either merge with the motherland under one joint government or become a free and independent nation, giving her sons a country of their own for which to live, and, if necessary, to die.
 The mention of Burke and Bristol so soon after the note of Boulton upon Dr. Small's passing, recalls one of Burke's many famous sentences, one perhaps unequalled under the circumstances. The candidate opposing him for Parliament died during the canvass. When Burke next addressed the people after the sad event, his first words were:
"What shadows we are; what shadows we pursue."
Contents Copyright James Watt 2009