Boulton and Watt (III.)
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FROM an early period Birmingham has been one of the principal centres of mechanical industry in England.  The neighbourhood abounds in coal and iron, and has long been famous for the skill of its artisans.  Swords were forged there in the middle ages.  The first guns made in England bore the Birmingham mark.  In 1538 Leland found "many smiths in the town that use to make knives and all manner of cutting tools, and many loriners that makes bittes, and a great many nailers."  About a century later Camden described the place as "full of inhabitants, and resounding with hammers and anvils, for the most part of them smiths."  As the skill of the Birmingham artisans increased, they gradually gave up the commoner kinds of smithery, and devoted themselves to ornamental metal-work, in brass, steel, and iron.  They became celebrated for their manufacture of buckles, buttons, and various fancy articles; and they turned out such abundance of toys that towards the close of last century Burke characterised Birmingham as "the great toy-shop of Europe."

    The ancient industry of Birmingham was of a more staid, and steady character, in keeping with the age.  Each manufacturer kept within the warmth of his own forge.  He did not go in search of orders, but waited for the orders to come to him.  Ironmongers brought their money in their saddle-bags, took away the goods in exchange, or saw them packed ready for the next waggon before they left.  Notwithstanding this quiet way of doing business, many comfortable fortunes were made in the place; the manufacturers, like their buttons, moving off so soon as they had received the stamp and the gilt.  Hutton, the Birmingham bookseller, says he knew men who left the town in chariots who had first approached it on foot.  Hutton himself entered the town a poor boy, and lived to write its history, and make a fortune by his industry.

    Until towards the end of last century the town was not very easy of approach from any direction.  The roads leading to it had become worn by the traffic of many generations.  The hoofs of the packhorses, helped by the rains, had deepened the tracks in the sandy soil, until in many places they were twelve or fourteen feet deep, so that it was said of travellers that they approached the town by sap.  One of these old hollow roads, still called Holloway-head, though now filled up, was so deep that a waggon-load of hay might pass along it without being seen.  There was no direct communication between Birmingham and London until about the middle of the century.  Before then the Great Road from London to Chester passed it four miles off, and the Birmingham manufacturer, when sending wares to London, had to forward his package to Castle Bromwich, there to await the approach of the packhorse train or the stage-waggon journeying south.  The Birmingham men, however, began to waken up, and in 1747 a coach was advertised to run to London in two days, "if the roads permit."  Twenty years later a stage-waggon was put on, and the communication by coach became gradually improved.

    When Hutton entered Birmingham in 1740, he was struck by the activity of the place and the vivacity of the inhabitants, which expressed itself in their looks as he passed them in the streets.  "I had," he says, "been among dreamers, but now I saw men awake.  Their very step showed alacrity.  Every man seemed to know and to prosecute his own affairs."  The Birmingham men were indeed as alert as they looked—steady workers and clever mechanics—men who struck hard on the anvil.  The artisans of the place had the advantage of a long training in mechanical skill.  It had been bred in their bone, and descended to them from their fathers as an inheritance.  In no town in England were there then to be found so many mechanics capable of executing entirely new work; nor, indeed, has the ability yet departed from them, the Birmingham artisans maintaining their individual superiority in intelligent execution of skilled work to the present day.  We are informed that inventors of new machines, foreign as well as English, are still in the practice of resorting to them for the purpose of getting their inventions embodied in the best forms, with greater chances of success than in any other town in England.

    About the middle of last century the two Boultons, father and son, were recognised as among the most enterprising and prosperous of Birmingham manufacturers.  The father of the elder Matthew Boulton was John Boulton of Northamptonshire, in which county Boultons or Boltons had long been settled.  About the end of the seventeenth century John Boulton lived at Lichfield, where he married Elizabeth, heir of Matthew Dyott of Stitchbrooke, by whom he obtained considerable property.  His means must, however, have become reduced; in consequence of which his son Matthew was sent to Birmingham to enter upon a career of business, and make his own way in the world.  He became established in the town as a silver stamper and piecer, to which he added other branches of manufacture, which his son Matthew afterwards largely extended.

    Matthew Boulton the younger was born at Birmingham on the 3rd September, 1728.  Little is known of his early life, beyond that he was a bright, clever boy, and a general favourite with his companions.  He received his principal education at a private academy at Deritend, kept by the Rev. Mr. Ansted, under whom he acquired the rudiments of a good English education.  Though he left school early, for the purpose of following his father's business, he nevertheless continued the work of self-instruction, and afterwards acquired considerable knowledge of Latin and French, as well as of drawing and mathematics.

    Young Boulton appears to have engaged in business with much spirit.  By the time he was seventeen he had introduced several important improvements in the manufacture of buttons, watch-chains, and other trinkets; and he had invented the inlaid steel buckles which shortly after came into fashion.  These buckles were exported in large quantities to France, from whence they were returned to England and sold as the most recent productions of French ingenuity.  The elder Boulton, having every confidence in his son's discretion and judgment, adopted him as a partners as soon as he came of age, and from that time forward he took almost the entire management of the concern.  Although in his letters he signed "for father and self," he always spoke in the first person of matters connected with the business.

    From the earliest glimpses we can get of Boulton as a man of business, it seems to have been his aim to get at the head of whatsoever branch of manufacture he undertook.  He endeavoured to produce the best possible articles, in regard to design, material, and workmanship.  Taste was then at a low ebb, and "Brummagem" had become a byword for everything that was gaudy, vulgar, and meretricious.  Boulton endeavoured to get rid of this reproach, and aimed at raising the standard of taste in manufacture to the highest point.  With this object, he employed the best artists to design his articles, and the cleverest artisans to manufacture them.

    In 1759 Boulton's father died, bequeathing to him the considerable property which he had accumulated by his business.  The year following, when thirty-two years of age, Matthew married Anne, the daughter of Luke Robinson, Esq., of Lichfield.  The lady was a distant relation of his own; the Dyotts of Stitchbrooke, whose heir his grandfather had married, being nearly related to the Babingtons of Curborough, from whom Miss Robinson was lineally descended—Luke Robinson having married the daughter and co-heir of John Babington of Curborough and Patkington.  Considerable opposition was offered to the marriage by the lady's friends, on account of Matthew Boulton's occupation; but he pressed his suit, and with good looks and a handsome presence to back him, he eventually succeeded in winning the heart and hand of Anne Robinson.

    He was now, indeed, in a position to have retired from business altogether.  But a life of inactivity had no charms for him.  He liked to mix with men in the affairs of active life, and to take his full share in the world's business.  Indeed, he hated ease and idleness, and found his greatest pleasure in constant occupation.

    Instead, therefore, of retiring from trade, he determined to engage in it more extensively.  He entertained the ambition of founding a manufactory that should be the first of its kind, and serve as a model for the manufacturers of his neighbourhood.  His premises on Snowhill, Birmingham, having become too small for his purpose, he looked about him for a suitable spot on which to erect more commodious workshops; and he was shortly attracted by the facilities presented by the property afterwards so extensively known as the famous Soho.

    Soho is about two miles north of Birmingham, on the Wolverhampton road.  It is not in the parish of Birmingham, nor in the county of Warwick, but just over the border, in the county of Stafford.  Down to the middle of last century the ground on which it stands was a barren heath, used only as a rabbit-warren.  The sole dwelling on it was the warrener's hut, which stood near the summit of the hill on the spot afterwards occupied by Soho House; and the warrener's well is still to be found in one of the cellars of the mansion.  In 1756 Mr. Edward Ruston took a lease of the ground for ninety-nine years from Mr. Wyerley, the lord of the manor, with liberty to make a cut about half a mile in length for the purpose of turning the waters of Hockley Brook into a pool under the brow of the hill.  When Mr. Boulton was satisfied that the place would suit his purpose, he entered into arrangements with Mr. Ruston for the purchase of his lease, on the completion of which he proceeded to rebuild the mill on a large scale, and in course of time removed thither the whole of his tools, machinery, and workmen.  The new manufactory, when finished, consisted of a series of roomy workshops conveniently connected with each other, and capable of accommodating upwards of a thousand workmen.  The building and stocking of the premises cost upwards of £20,000.


    Before removing to Soho, Mr. Boulton took into partnership Mr. John Fothergill, with the object of more vigorously extending his business operations.  Mr. Fothergill possessed a very limited capital, but he was a man of good character and active habits of business, with a considerable knowledge of foreign markets.  On the occasion of his entering the concern, stock was taken of the warehouse on Snow Hill; and some idea of the extent of Boulton's business at the time may be formed from the fact that his manager, Mr. Zaccheus Walker, assisted by Farquharson, Nuttall, Frogatt, and half-a-dozen labourers, were occupied during eight days in weighing metals, counting goods, and preparing an inventory of the effects and stock-in-trade.  The partnership commenced at midsummer, 1762, and shortly after the principal manufactory was removed to Soho.

    Steps were immediately taken to open up new connexions and agencies at home and abroad; and a large business was shortly established in many of the principal towns and cities of Europe, in filagree and inlaid work, in buttons, buckles, clasps, watch-chains, and various kinds of ornamental metal wares.  The firm shortly added the manufacture of silver plate and plated goods to their other branches, and turned out large quantities of candlesticks, urns, brackets, and various articles in ormolu.  The books of the firm indicate the costly nature of their productions, 500 ounces of silver being given out at a time, besides considerable quantities of gold and plating for purposes of fabrication.  Boulton himself attended to the organization and management of the works and to the extension of the trade at home, while Fothergill devoted himself to establishing and superintending the foreign agencies.

    From the first, Boulton aimed at establishing a character for the excellence of his productions.  They must not only be honest in workmanship, but tasteful in design.  He determined, so far as in him lay, to get rid of the "Brummagem" reproach.  Thus we find him writing to his partner 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.  How can I expect the public to countenance rubbish from Soho while they can procure sound and perfect work from any other quarter?"

    He frequently went to town for the express purpose of reading and making drawings of rare works in metal in the British Museum, sending the results down to Soho.  When rare objects of art were offered for sale, he endeavoured to secure them.  "I bid five guineas," he wrote his partner on one occasion, "for the Duke of Marlborough's great blue vase, but it sold for ten .  .  .  .  I bought two bronzed figures, which are sent herewith."  He borrowed antique candlesticks, vases, and articles in metal from the Queen and from various members of the nobility.  "I wish Mr. Eginton," he wrote, "would take good casts from the Hercules and the Hydra, and then let it be well gilt and returned with the seven vases; for 'tis the Queen's.  I perceive we shall want many such figures, and therefore we should omit no opportunity of taking good casts."

    The Duke of Northumberland lent Boulton many of his most highly-prized articles for imitation by his workmen.  Among his other liberal helpers in the same way, we find the Duke of Richmond, Lord Shelburne, and the Earl of Dartmouth.  The Duke gave him an introduction to Horace Walpole, for the purpose of enabling him to visit and examine the art treasures of Strawberry Hill.  "The vases," said he, in writing to Boulton, "are, in my opinion, better worth your seeing than anything in England, and I wish you would have exact drawings of them taken, as I may very possibly like to have them copied by you."  Lord Shelburne's opinion of Boulton may be gathered from his letter to Mr. Adams, the architect, in which he said:—"Mr. Boulton is the most enterprising man in Birmingham.  He is very desirous of cultivating Mr. Adams's taste in his productions, and has bought his Dioclesian by Lord Shelburne's advice."

    Boulton, however, did not confine himself to England; he caused search to be made over the Continent for the best specimens of handicraft as models for imitation; and when he found them he strove to equal, if not to excel them, in style and quality.  He sent his agent, Mr. Wendler, on a special mission of this sort to Venice, Rome, and other Italian cities, to purchase for him the best specimens of metal-work, and obtain for him designs of various ornaments—vases, cameos, intaglios, and statuary.  On one occasion we find Wendler sending him 456 prints, Boulton acknowledging that they will prove exceedingly useful for the purposes of his manufacture.  At the same time, Fothergill was travelling through France and Germany with a like object, whilst he was also establishing new connexions with a view to extended trade.

    While Boulton was ambitious of reaching the highest excellence in his own line of business, he did not confine himself to that, but was feeling his way in various directions outside of it.  Thus to his friend Wedgwood he wrote on one occasion that he admired his vases so much that he "almost wished to be a potter."  At one time, indeed, he had serious thoughts of beginning the fictile manufacture; but he rested satisfied with mounting in metal the vases which Wedgwood made.  "The mounting of vases," he wrote, "is a large field for fancy, in which I shall indulge, as I perceive it possible to convert even a very ugly vessel into a beautiful vase."

    Another branch of business that he sought to establish was the manufacture of clocks.  It was one of his leading ideas, that articles in common use might be made much better and cheaper if manufactured on a large scale with the help of the best machinery; and he thought this might be successfully done in the making of clocks and timepieces.  The necessary machinery was erected accordingly, and the new branch of business was started.  Some of the timepieces were of an entirely novel arrangement.  One of them, invented by Dr. Small, contained but a single wheel, and was considered a piece of very ingenious construction.  Boulton also sought to rival the French makers of ornamental timepieces, by whom the English markets were then almost entirely supplied; and some of the articles of this sort turned out by him were of great beauty.

    One of his most ardent encouragers and admirers, the Hon. Mrs. Montagu, wrote to him,—"I take greater pleasure in our victories over the French in the contention of arts than of arms.  The achievements of Soho, instead of making widows and orphans, make marriages and christenings.  Your noble industry, while elevating the public taste, provides new occupations for the poor, and enables them to bring up their families in comfort.  Go on, then, sir, to triumph over the French in taste, and to embellish your country with useful inventions and elegant productions."

    Boulton's efforts to improve the industrial arts did not, however, always meet with such glowing eulogy as this.  Two of his most highly finished astronomical clocks could not find purchasers at his London sale; on which he wrote to his wife at Soho, "I find philosophy at a very low ebb in London, and I have therefore brought back my two fine clocks, which I will send to a market where common sense is not out of fashion.  If I had made the clocks play jigs upon bells, and a dancing bear keeping time, or if I had made a horse-race upon their faces, I believe they would have had better bidders.  I shall therefore bring them back to Soho, and some time this summer will send them to the Empress of Russia, who, I believe, would be glad of them." [p.138]

    During the same visit to London he was more successful with the king and queen, who warmly patronised his productions.  "The king," he wrote to his wife, "hath bought a pair of cassolets, a Titus, a Venus clock, and some other things, and inquired this morning how yesterday's sale went.  I shall see him again, I believe.  I was with them, the queen and all the children, between two and three hours.  There were, likewise, many of the nobility present.  Never was man so much complimented as I have been; but I find that compliments don't make fat nor fill the pocket.  The queen showed me her last child, which is a beauty, but none of 'em are equal to the General of Soho or the fair Maid of the Mill. [p.139-1]  God bless them both, and kiss them for me."

    In another letter he described a subsequent visit to the palace.  "I am to wait upon their majesties again so soon as our Tripod Tea-kitchen arrives, and again upon some other business.  The queen, I think, is much improved in her person, and she now speaks English like an English lady.  She draws very finely, is a great musician and works with her needle better than Mrs. Betty.  However, without joke she is extremely sensible, very affable, and a great patroness of English manufactures.  Of this she gave me a particular instance; for, after the king and she had talked to me for nearly three hours, they withdrew, and then the queen sent for me into her boudoir, showed me her chimneypiece, and asked me how many vases it would take to furnish it; 'for,' said she, 'all that china shall be taken away.'  She also desired that I would fetch her the two finest steel chains I could make.  All this she did of her own accord, without the presence of the king, which I could not help putting a kind construction upon." [p.139-2]

    Thus stimulated by royal and noble patronage, Boulton exerted himself to the utmost to produce articles of the highest excellence.  Like his friend Wedgwood, he employed Flaxman and other London artists to design his choicer goods; but he had many foreign designers and skilled workmen, French and Italian, in his regular employment.  He attracted these men by liberal wages, and kept them attached to him by kind and generous treatment.  On one occasion we find the Duke of Richmond applying to him to recommend a first-class artist to execute some special work in metal for him.  Boulton replies that he can strongly recommend one of his own men, an honest, steady workman, an excellent metal turner.  "He hath made for me some exceeding good acromatic telescopes [another branch of Boulton's business]. . . . I give him two guineas a week and a house to live in.  He is a Frenchman, and formerly worked with the famous M. Germain; he afterwards worked for the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, and he hath worked upwards of two years for me." [p.140-1]

    Before many years had passed, Soho was spoken of with pride as one of the best schools of skilled industry in England.  Its fame extended abroad as well as at home, and when distinguished foreigners came to England, they usually visited Soho as one of the national sights.  When the manufactory was complete [p.140-2] and in full work, Boulton removed from his house on Snow Hill to the mansion of Soho.  There he continued to live until the close of his life, maintaining a splendid hospitality.  Men of all nations, and of all classes and opinions, were received there by turns—princes, philosophers, artists, authors, merchants, and poets.  In August, 1767, while executing the two chains for the queen, we find him writing to his London agent as his excuse for a day's delay in forwarding it: "I had lords and ladies to wait on yesterday; I have French and Spaniards to-day; and to-morrow I shall have Germans, Russians, and Norwegians."  For many years the visitors at Soho House were so numerous and arrived in such constant succession, that it more resembled an hotel than a private mansion.


    The rapid extension of the Soho business necessarily led to the increase of the capital invested in it.  Boulton had to find large sums of money for increased stock, plant, and credits.  He raised £3,000 on his wife's estate; he borrowed £5,000 from his friend Baumgarten; and he sold considerable portions of the property left him by his father, by which means he was enabled considerably to extend his operations.  There were envious busybodies about who circulated rumours to his discredit, and set the report on foot that to carry on a business on so large a scale would require a capital of £80,000.  "Their evil speaking," said he to a correspondent, "will avail but little, as our house is founded on so firm a rock that envy and malice will not be able to shake it; and I am determined to spare neither pains nor money to establish such a house as will acquire both honour and wealth."  The rapid strides he was making may be inferred from the statement made to the same correspondent, which showed that the gross returns of the firm, which were £7,000 in 1763, had advanced to £30,000 in 1767, with orders still upon the increase.

    Though he had a keen eye for business, Boulton regarded character more than profit.  He would have no connexion with any transaction of a discreditable kind.  Orders were sent to him from France for base money, but he spurned them with indignation.  "I will do anything," he wrote to M. Motteaux, his Paris agent, "short of being common informer against particular persons, to stop the malpractices of the Birmingham coiners."  He declared he was as ready to do business on reasonable terms as any other person, but he would not undersell; "for," said he, "to run down prices would be to run down quality, which could only have the effect of undermining confidence, and eventually ruining trade."  His principles were equally honourable as regarded the workmen of rival employers.  "I have had many offers and opportunities," he said to one, "of taking your people, whom I could, with convenience to myself, have employed; but it is a practice I abhor.  Nevertheless, whatever game we play at, I shall always avail myself of the rules with which 'tis played, or I know I shall make but a very indifferent figure in it." [p.143]

    He was frequently asked to take gentleman apprentices into his works, but declined to receive them, though hundreds of pounds' premium were in many cases offered with them.  He preferred employing the humbler class of boys, whom he could train up as skilled workmen.  He was also induced to prefer the latter for another reason, of a still more creditable kind.  "I have," said he, in answer to a gentleman applicant, "built and furnished a house for the reception of one kind of apprentices—fatherless children, parish apprentices, and hospital boys; and gentlemen's sons would probably find themselves out of place in such companionship."

    While occupied with his own affairs, and in conducting what he described as "the largest hardware manufactory in the world," Boulton found time to take an active part in promoting the measures then on foot for opening up the internal navigation of the country.  He was a large subscriber to the Grand Trunk and Birmingham Canal schemes, the latter of which was of the greater importance to him personally, as it passed close by Soho, and thus placed his works in direct communication both with London and the northern coal and manufacturing districts.

    Coming down to a few years later, in 1770, we find his business still growing, and his works and plant absorbing still more capital, principally obtained by borrowing.  In a letter to Mr. Adams, the celebrated architect, requesting him to prepare the design of a new sale-room in London, he described the manufactory at Soho as in full progress, from 700 to 800 persons being employed as metallic artists and workers in tortoiseshell, stones, glass, and enamel.  "I have almost every machine," said he, "that is applicable to those arts; I have two water-mills employed in rolling, polishing, grinding, and turning various sorts of lathes.  I have trained up many, and am training up more plain country lads into good workmen; and wherever I find indications of skill and ability, I encourage them.  I have likewise established correspondence with almost every mercantile town in Europe, and am thus regularly supplied with orders for the grosser articles in common demand, by which I am enabled to employ such a number of hands as to provide me with an ample choice of artists for the finer branches of work; and I am thereby encouraged to erect and employ a more extensive apparatus than it would be prudent to provide for the production of the finer articles only."

    It is indeed probable—though Boulton was slow to admit it—that he had been extending his business more rapidly than his capital would conveniently allow; for we find him becoming more and more pressed for means to meet the interest on the borrowed money invested in buildings, tools, and machinery.  He had obtained £10,000 from a Mr. Tonson of London; and on the death of that gentleman, in 1772, he had considerable difficulty in raising the means to pay off the debt.  His embarrassment was increased by a serious commercial panic, aggravated by the failure of Fordyce Brothers, by which a considerable sum deposited with them remained locked up for some time, and he was eventually a loser to the extent of £2,000.


    Other failures and losses followed; and trade came almost to a standstill.  Yet he bravely held on.  "We have a thousand mouths at Soho to feed," he says; "and it has taken so much labour and pains to get so valuable and well-organised a staff of workmen together, that the operations of the manufactory must be carried on at whatever risk."

    He continued to receive distinguished visitors at his works.  "Last week," he wrote Mr. Ebbenhouse, "we had Prince Poniatowski, nephew of the King of Poland, and the French, Danish, Sardinian, and Dutch Ambassadors; this week we have had Count Orloff, one of the five celebrated brothers who are such favourites with the Empress of Russia; and only yesterday I had the Viceroy of Ireland, who dined with me.  Scarcely a day passes without a visit from some distinguished personage."

    Besides carrying on the extensive business connected with his manufactory at Soho, this indefatigable man found time to prosecute the study of several important branches of practical science.  It was scarcely to be supposed that he had much leisure at his disposal; but in life it often happens that the busiest men contrive to find the most leisure; and he who is "up to the ears" in work can, nevertheless, snatch occasional intervals to devote to inquiries in which his heart is engaged.  Hence we find Boulton ranging at intervals over a wide field of inquiry; at one time studying geology, and collecting fossils, minerals, and specimens for his museum; at another, reading and experimenting on fixed air; and at another studying Newton's works with the object of increasing the force of projectiles.  But the subject which perhaps more than all interested him was the improvement of the Steam-Engine, which shortly after led to his introduction to James Watt.




WANT of water-power was one of the great defects of Soho as a manufacturing establishment, and for a long time Boulton struggled with the difficulty.  The severe summer droughts obliged him to connect a horse-mill with the water-wheel.  From six to ten horses were employed as an auxiliary power, at an expense of from five to eight guineas a week.  But this expedient, though costly, was found very inconvenient.  Boulton next thought of erecting a pumping-engine after Savery or Newcomen's construction, for the purpose of raising the water from the mill-stream and returning it back into the reservoir thereby maintaining a head of water sufficient to supply the water-wheel and keep the mill in regular work.  "The enormous expense of the horse-power," he wrote to a friend, "put me upon thinking of turning the mill by fire, and I made many fruitless experiments on the subject."

    In 1766 we find him engaged in a correspondence with the distinguished Benjamin Franklin as to steam power.  Eight years before, Franklin had visited Boulton at Birmingham and made his acquaintance.  They were mutually pleased with each other, and continued to correspond during Franklin's stay in England, exchanging their views on magnetism, electricity, and other subjects. [p.148]  When Boulton began to study the fire-engine with a view to its improvement, Franklin was one of the first whom he consulted.  Writing to him on the 22nd February, 1766, Boulton said,—

    "My engagements since Christmas have not permitted me to make any further progress with my fire-engine; but, as the thirsty season is approaching apace, necessity will oblige me to set about it in good earnest.  Query,—Which of the steam-valves do you like best?  Is it better to introduce the jet of cold water at the bottom of the receiver or at the top?  Each has its advantages and disadvantages.  My thoughts about the secondary or mechanical contrivances of the engine are too numerous to trouble you with in this letter, and yet I have not been lucky enough to hit upon any that are objectionless.  I therefore beg, if any thought occurs to your fertile genius which you think may be useful, or preserve me from error in the execution of this engine, you'll be so kind as to communicate it to me, and you'll very greatly oblige me."

    From a subsequent letter it appears that Boulton, like Watt—who was about the same time occupied with his invention at Glasgow—had a model constructed for experimental purposes, and that this model was now with Franklin in London; for we find Boulton requesting the latter to "order a porter to nail up the model in the box again and take it to the Birmingham carrier at the Bell Inn, Smithfield."  After a silence of about a month Franklin replied,—

"You will, I trust, excuse my so long omitting to answer your kind letter, when you consider the excessive hurry and anxiety I have been engaged in with our American affairs I know not which of the valves to give the preference to, nor whether it is best to introduce your jet of cold water above or below.  Experiments will best decide in such cases.  I would only repeat to you the hint I gave, of fixing your grate in such a manner as to burn all your smoke.  I think a great deal of fuel will then be saved, for two reasons.  One, that smoke is fuel, and is wasted when it escapes uninflamed.  The other, that it forms a sooty crust on the bottom of the boiler, which crust not being a good conductor of heat, and preventing flame and hot air coming into immediate contact with the vessel, lessens their effect in giving heat to the water.  All that is necessary is, to make the smoke of fresh coals pass descending through those that are already thoroughly ignited.  I sent the model last week, with your papers in it, which I hope got safe to hand." [p.149]

    The model duly arrived at Soho, and we find Boulton shortly after occupied in making experiments with it, the results of which are duly entered in his note-books.  Dr. Erasmus Darwin, with whom he was on very intimate terms, wrote to him from Lichfield, inquiring what Franklin thought of the model and what suggestions he had made for its improvement.  "Your model of a steam-engine, I am told," said he, "has gained so much approbation in London, that I cannot but congratulate you on the mechanical fame you have acquired by it, which, assure yourself, is as great a pleasure to me as it could possibly be to yourself." [p.150]
    Another letter of Darwin to Boulton is preserved without date, but apparently written earlier than the preceding, in which the Doctor lays before the mechanical philosopher the scheme of "a fiery chariot" which he had conceived,—in other words, of a locomotive steam-carriage.  He proposed to apply an engine with a pair of cylinders working alternately, to drive the proposed vehicle; and he sent Boulton some rough diagrams illustrative of his views, which he begged might be kept a profound secret, as it was his intention, if Boulton approved of his plan and would join him as a partner, to endeavour to build a model engine, and, if it answered, to take out a joint patent for it.  But Dr. Darwin's scheme was too crude to be capable of being embodied in a working model; and nothing more was heard of his fiery chariot.

    Another of Boulton's numerous correspondents about the same time was Dr. Roebuck, of Kinneil, then occupied with his enterprise at Carron.  He was also about to engage in working the Boroughstoness coal mines, of the result of which he was extremely sanguine.  Roebuck wished Boulton to join him as a partner, offering a tenth share in the concern, and to take back the share if the result did not answer expectations.  But Boulton's hands were already full of business nearer home, and he declined the venture.  Roebuck then informed him of the invention made by his ingenious friend Watt, and of the progress of the model engine.  This was a subject calculated to excite the interest of Boulton, who was himself occupied in studying the same object; and he expressed a desire to see Watt, if he could make it convenient to visit him at Soho.

    It so happened that Watt had occasion to be in London in the summer of 1767, on the business connected with the Forth and Clyde Canal Bill, and he determined to take Soho on his way home.  When Watt paid his promised visit, Boulton was absent; but he was shown over the works by his friend Dr. Small, who had settled in Birmingham as a physician, and already secured a high place in Boulton's esteem.  Watt was much struck with the admirable arrangements of the Soho manufactory, and recognised at a glance the admirable power of organisation which they displayed.  Still plodding wearily with his model, and contending with the "villanous bad workmanship" of his Glasgow artisans, he could not but envy the precision of the Soho tools and the dexterity of the Soho workmen.  Some conversation on the subject of Steam must have occurred between him and Small, to whom he explained the nature of his invention; for we find the latter shortly after writing Watt, urging him to come to Birmingham and join partnership with Boulton and himself in the manufacture of steam-engines.  Although nothing came of this proposal at the time, it had probably some effect, when communicated to Dr. Roebuck, in inducing him to close with Watt as a partner, and thus anticipate his Birmingham correspondents, of whose sagacity he had the highest opinion.

    In the following year Watt visited London on the business connected with the engine patent.  Small wrote to him there, saying, "Get your patent and come to Birmingham, with as much time to spend as you can."  Watt accordingly again took Birmingham on his way home.  There he saw his future partner for the first time, and they at once conceived a hearty liking for each other.  They had much conversation about the engine, and it greatly cheered Watt to find that the sagacious and practical Birmingham manufacturer should augur so favourably of its success as he did.  Shortly after, when Dr. Robison visited Soho, Boulton told him that although he had begun the construction of his proposed pumping-engine, he had determined to proceed no further with it until he had ascertained the success or otherwise of Watt and Roebuck's scheme.  "In erecting my proposed engine," said he, "I would necessarily avail myself of what I learned from Mr. Watt's conversation; but this would not now be right without his consent."  Boulton's conduct in this proceeding was thoroughly characteristic of the man, and affords another illustration of the general fairness and honesty with which he acted in all his business transactions.

    Watt returned to Glasgow to resume his engine experiments, and proceed with his canal surveys.  He kept up a correspondence with Boulton, and advised him from time to time of the progress made with his model.  Towards the end of the year we find him sending Boulton a package from Glasgow containing "one dozen German flutes at 5s., and a copper digester £1. 10s."  He added, "I have almost finished a most complete model of my reciprocating-engine; when it is tried, I shall advise the success."

    To Dr. Small he wrote more confidentially, sending him in January, 1769, a copy of the intended specification of his steam-engine.  He also spoke of his general business: "Our pottery," said he, "is doing tolerably, though not as I wish.  I am sick of the people I have to do with, though not of the business, which I expect will turn out a very good one.  I have a fine scheme for doing it all by fire or water mills, but not in this country nor with the present people."  Later, he wrote: "I have had another three days of fever, from which I am not quite recovered.  This cursed climate and constitution will undo me."

    Watt must have told Small when at Birmingham of the probability of his being able to apply his steam-engine to locomotion; for the latter writes him, "I told Dr. Robison and his pupil that I hope soon to travel in a fiery chariot of your invention."  Later, Small wrote: "A linen-draper at London, one Moore, has taken out a patent for moving wheel-carriages by steam.  This comes of thy delays.  I dare say he has heard of your inventions . . . . Do come to England with all possible speed.  At this moment how I could scold you for negligence!  However, if you will come hither soon, I will promise to be very civil, and buy a steam-chaise of you and not of Moore.  And yet it vexes me abominably to see a man of your superior genius neglect to avail himself properly of his great talents.  These short fevers will do you good." [p.153]

    Watt replied: "If linen-draper Moore does not use my engines to drive his chaises, he can't drive them by steam.  If he does, I will stop them.  I suppose by the rapidity of his progress and puffing he is too volatile to be dangerous . . . . You talk to me about coming to England just as if I was an Indian that had nothing to remove but my person.  Why do we encumber ourselves with anything else?  I can't see you before July at soonest, unless you come here.  If you do I can recommend you to a fine sweet girl, who will be anything you want her to be if you can make yourself agreeable to her."

    Badinage apart, however, there was one point on which Watt earnestly solicited the kind services of his friend.  He had become more than ever desirous of securing the powerful co-operation of Matthew Boulton in introducing his invention to public notice:—

    "Seriously," says he, "you will oblige me if you will negotiate the following affair:—I find that if the engine succeeds, my whole time will be taken up in planning and erecting Reciprocating engines, and the circulator must stand still unless I do what I have done too often, neglect certainty for hope.  Now Mr. Boulton wants one or more engines for his own use.  If he will make a model of one of 20 inches diameter at least, I will give him my advice and as much assistance as I can.  He shall have liberty to erect one of any size for his own use.  If he should choose to have more the terms will be easy, and I shall consider myself much obliged to him.  If it should answer, and he should not think himself repaid for his trouble by the use of it, he shall make and use it until he is repaid.  If this be agreeable to him let me know, and I will propose it to the Doctor [Roebuck], and doubt not of his consent.  I wish Mr. Boulton and you had entered into some negotiation with the Doctor about coming in as partners.  I am afraid it is now too late; for the nearer it approaches to certainty, he grows the more tenacious of it. [p.154]  For my part I shall continue to think as I did, that it would be for our mutual advantage.  His expectations are solely from the Reciprocator.  Possibly he may be tempted to part with the half of the Circulator to you.  This I say of myself.  Mr. Boulton asked if the Circulator was contrived since our agreement.  It was; but it is a part of the scheme, and virtually included in it." [p.155-1]

    From this it will be seen how anxious Watt was to engage Boulton in taking an interest in his invention.  But though the fly was artfully cast over the nose of the fish, still he would not rise.  The times were out of joint, business was stagnant, and Boulton was of necessity cautious about venturing upon new enterprises.  Small doubtless communicated the views thus confidentially conveyed to him by Watt; and in his next letter he again pressed him to come to Birmingham and have a personal interview with Boulton as to the engine, adding, "bring this pretty girl with you when you come."

    But, instead of Watt, Roebuck himself went to see Boulton on the subject.  During the time of this visit Watt again communicated to Small his anxiety that Boulton should join in the partnership.  "As for myself," said he, "I shall say nothing; but if you three can agree among yourselves, you may appoint me what share you please, and you will find me willing to do my best to advance the good of the whole; or, if this [the engine] should not succeed, to do any other thing I can to make you all amends, only reserving to myself the liberty of grumbling when I am in an ill humour." [155-2]

    Small's reply was discouraging.  Both Boulton and he had just engaged in another scheme, which would require all the ready money at their command.  Possibly the ill-success of the experiment Watt had by this time made with his new model at Kinneil may have had some influence in deterring them from engaging upon what looked a very unpromising speculation.  Watt was greatly cast down at this intelligence, though he could not blame his friend for the caution he displayed in the matter.  He nevertheless again returned to the subject in his letters to Small; and at last Boulton was persuaded to enter into a conditional arrangement with Roebuck, which was immediately communicated to Watt, who received the intelligence with great exultation.  "I shake hands," he wrote to Small, "with you and Mr. Boulton in our connexion, which I hope will prove agreeable to us all."

    His joy, however, proved premature, as it turned out that the agreement was only to the effect, that if Boulton thought proper to exercise the option of becoming a partner in the engine to the extent of one-third, he was to do so within a period of twelve months, paying Roebuck a sum of £100; but this option Boulton never exercised, and the engine enterprise seemed to be as far from success as ever.

    In the meantime Watt became increasingly anxious about his own position.  He had been spending more money on fruitless experiments, and getting into more debt.  The six months he had been living at Kinneil had brought him in nothing.  He had been neglecting his business, and could not afford to waste more time in prosecuting an apparently hopeless speculation.  He accordingly returned to his regular work, and proceeded with the survey of the river Clyde, at the instance of the Glasgow Corporation.  "I would not have meddled with this," he wrote to Dr. Small, "had I been certain of being able to bring the engine to bear.  But I cannot, on an uncertainty, refuse every piece of business that offers.  I have refused some common fire-engines, because they must have taken my attention so up as to hinder my going on with my own.  However, if I cannot make it answer soon, I shall certainly undertake the next that offers, for I cannot afford to trifle away my whole life, which—God knows—may not be long.  Not that I think myself a proper hand for keeping men to their duty; but I must use my endeavours to make myself square with the world, though I much fear I never shall." [p.157-1]

    Small lamented this apparent abandonment of the condensing steam-engine.  But although he had failed in inducing Boulton heartily to join Watt in the enterprise he did not yet despair.  He continued to urge Watt to complete his engine, as the fourteen years during which the patent lasted would soon be gone.  At all events he might send the drawings of his engine to Soho; and Mr. Boulton and he would undertake to do their best to have one constructed for the purpose of exhibiting its powers. [p.157-2]  To this Watt agreed, and about the beginning of 1770 the necessary drawings were sent to Soho, and an engine was immediately put in course of execution.  Patterns were made and sent to Coalbrookdale to be cast; but when the castings were received they were found exceedingly imperfect, and were thrown aside as useless.  They were then sent to an iron-founder at Bilston to be executed; but the result was only another failure.

    About the beginning of 1770 another unsuccessful experiment was made by Watt and Roebuck with the engine at Kinneil.  The cylinder had been repaired and made true by beating, but as the metal of which it was made was soft, it was feared that the working of the piston might throw it out of form.  To prevent this, two firm parallel planes were fixed, through which the piston worked, in order to prevent its vibration.  "If this should fail," Roebuck wrote to Boulton, in giving an account of the intended trial, "then the cylinder must be made of cast-iron.  But I have great confidence that the present engine will work completely, and by this day se'nnight (sic.) you may expect to hear the result of our experiments." [p.158]  The good news, however, never went to Birmingham; on the contrary, the trial proved a failure.  There was some more tinkering at the engine, but it would not work satisfactorily; and Watt went back to Glasgow with a heavy heart.

    Small again endeavoured to induce Watt to visit Birmingham, to superintend the erection of the engine, the materials for which were now lying at Soho.  He also held out to Watt the hope of obtaining some employment for him in the midland counties as a consulting engineer.  But Watt could not afford to lose more time in erecting trial-engines; and he was too much occupied at Glasgow to leave it for the proposed uncertainty at Birmingham.  He accordingly declined the visit, but invited Small to continue the correspondence; "for," said he, "we have abundance of matters to discuss, though the damned engine sleep in quiet."

    Small replied, professing himself satisfied that Watt was so fully employed in his own profession at Glasgow.  "Let nothing," he said, "divert you from the business of engineering.  You are sensible that both Boulton and I engaged in the patent scheme much more from inclination to be in some degree useful to you than from any other principle; so that, if you are prosperous and happy, we do not care whether you find the scheme worth prosecuting or not." [p.159]

    In replying to Small's complaint of himself, that he felt ennuye and stupid, taking pleasure in nothing but sleep, Watt said: "You complain of physic; I find it sufficiently stupefying to be obliged to think on any subject but one's hobby; and I really am become monstrously stupid, and can seldom think at all.  I wish to God I could afford to live without it; though I don't admire your sleeping scheme.  I must fatigue myself, otherwise I can neither eat nor sleep.  In short, I greatly doubt whether the silent mansion of the grave be not the happiest abode.  I am cured of most of my youthful desires, and if ambition or avarice do not lay hold of me, I shall be almost as much ennuye as you say you are." [p.160-1]

    Watt's prospects were, however, brightening.  He was then busily occupied in superintending the construction of the Monkland Canal.  He wrote Small that he had a hundred men working under him, who had "made a confounded gash in a hill," at which they had been working for twelve months; that by frugal living he had contrived to save money enough to pay his debts,—and that he had plenty of remunerative work before him.  "The pottery," he said, "does very well, though we make monstrous bad ware." [p.160-2]  He had not, indeed, got rid of his headaches, though he was not so much afflicted by low spirits as he had been.

    This comparatively prosperous state of Watt's affairs did not, however, last long.  The commercial panic of 1772 put a sudden stop to most of the canal schemes then on foot.  The proprietors of the Monkland Canal could not find the necessary means for carrying on the works, and Watt consequently lost his employment as their engineer.  He was again thrown upon the world, and where was he to look for help?  Naturally enough, he reverted to his engine.  But it was in the hands of Dr. Roebuck, who was overwhelmed with debt, and upon the verge of insolvency.  It was clear that no help was to be looked for in that quarter.  Again he bethought him of Small's invitations to Birmingham, and of the interest that Boulton had taken in the engine scheme.  Could he be induced at last to become a partner?  He again broached the subject to Small, telling him how his canal occupation had failed him; and informing him that he was now ready to go to Birmingham or anywhere else, and engage in English surveys, or do anything that would bring him in an honest income.  But, above all, why should not Boulton and Small, now that Roebuck had failed, join him as partners in the engine business?

    By this time, Boulton himself had become involved in difficulties arising out of the general commercial pressure, and was more than ever averse to enter upon such an enterprise.  But Boulton having lent Roebuck a considerable sum of money, it occurred to Watt that the amount might be taken as part of the price of Boulton's share in the patent, if he would consent to enter into the proposed partnership.  He represented to Small the great distress of Roebuck's situation, which he had done all that he could to relieve.  "What little I can do for him," he said, "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."

    Reverting to the idea of a partnership with Boulton, he added, "I shall be content to hold a very small share in it, 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."  And again: "Although I am out of pocket a much greater sum upon these experiments than my proportion of the profits of the engine, I do not look upon that money as the price of my share, but as money spent on my education.  I thank God I have now reason to believe that I can never, while I have health, be at any loss to pay what I owe, and to live at least in a decent manner; more, I do not violently desire." [p.162-1]

    In a subsequent letter Watt promised Small that he would pay an early visit to Birmingham, and added, "there is nowhere I so much wish to be."  In replying, Small pointed out a difficulty in the way of the proposed partnership: "It is impossible," he wrote, "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 undue value." [p.162-2]  He added that the high-pressure wheel-engine constructing at Soho, after Watt's plans, was nearly ready, and that Wilkinson, of Bradley, had promised that the boiler should be sent next week.  "Should the experiment succeed, or seem likely to succeed," he said, "you ought to come hither immediately upon receiving the notice, which I will instantly send.  In that case we propose to unite three things under your direction, which would altogether, we hope, prove tolerably satisfactory to you, at least until your merit shall be better known."

    But before the experiment with the wheel-engine could be tried at Soho, the financial ruin of Dr. Roebuck brought matters to a crisis.  He was now in the hands of his creditors, who found his affairs in inextricable confusion.  He owed some £1,200 to Boulton, who, rather than claim against the estate, offered to take Roebuck's two-thirds share in the engine patent in lieu of the debt.  The creditors did not value the engine patent as worth one farthing, and were but too glad to agree to the proposal.  As Watt himself said, it was only "paying one bad debt with another."

    Boulton wrote to Watt requesting him to act as his attorney in the matter.  He confessed that he was by no means sanguine as to the success of the engine, but, being an assayer, he was willing "to assay it and try how much gold it contains."  "The thing," he added, "is now a shadow; 'tis merely ideal, and will cost time and money to realise it.  We have made no experiment yet that answers my purpose, and the times are so horrible throughout the mercantile part of Europe, that I have not had my thoughts sufficiently disengaged to think further of new schemes." [p.163-1]

    So soon as the arrangement for the transfer of Roebuck's share to Boulton was concluded, Watt ordered the engine in the outhouse of Kinneil to be taken to pieces, packed up, and sent to Birmingham. [163-2]  Small again pressed him to come and superintend the work in person.  But before he could leave Scotland it was necessary that he should complete the survey of the Caledonian Canal, which was still unfinished.  This done, he promised at once to set out for Soho.

    Watt had a very bad opinion of the fortunes of his native country at the time when he determined to leave it.  Besides his own incessant troubles, he thought Scotland was going to the devil.  "I am still," he said, "monstrously plagued with my headaches, and not a little with unprofitable business.  I don't mean my own whims: these I never work at when I can do any other thing; but I have got too many acquaintances; and there are too many beggars in this country, which I am afraid is going to the devil altogether.  Provisions continue excessively dear, and laws are made to keep them so.  But luckily the spirit of emigration rises high, and the people seem disposed to show their oppressive masters that they can live without them.  By the time some twenty or thirty thousand more leave the country, matters will take a turn not much to the profit of the landholders." [p.164]

    In any case, he had made up his mind to leave his own country, of which he declared himself "heart-sick."  He hated its harsh climate, so trying to his fragile constitution.  Moreover, he disliked the people he had to deal with.  He was also badly paid for his work, a whole year's surveying having brought him in only about £200.  Out of this he had paid some portion to Dr. Roebuck to help him in his necessity, "so that," as he said to Dr. Small, "I can barely support myself and keep untouched the small sum I have allotted for my visit to you."

    Watt's intention was either to try to find employment as a surveyor or engineer in England, or obtain a situation of a similar kind abroad.  He was, however, naturally desirous of ascertaining whether it was yet possible to do anything with the materials which now lay at Soho; and with the object of visiting his friends there and superintending the erection of the trial-engine, he at length made his final arrangements to leave Glasgow.  We find him arrived in Birmingham in May, 1774, where he at once entered on a new and important phase of his professional career.




WATT had now been occupied for about nine years in working out the details of his invention.  Five years had passed since he had taken out his patent, and he was still struggling with difficulties.  Several thousand pounds had already been expended on the engine, besides all his study, labour, and ingenuity; yet it was still, as Boulton expressed it, "a shadow as regarded its practical utility and value."  So long as Watt's connexion with Roebuck continued, there was very little chance of getting it introduced to public notice.  What it was yet to become as a working power, depended in no small degree upon the business ability, the strength of purpose, and the length of purse, of his new partner.

    Had Watt searched Europe through, probably he could not have found a man better fitted than Matthew Boulton was, for bringing his invention fairly before the world.  Many would have thought it rash on the part of the latter, burdened as he was with heavy liabilities, to engage in a new undertaking of so speculative a character.  Feasible though the scheme might be, it was an admitted fact that nearly all the experiments with the models heretofore made had proved failures.  It is true Watt firmly believed that he had hit upon the right principle, and he was as sanguine as ever of the eventual success of his engine.  But though inventors are usually sanguine, men of capital are not.  Capitalists are rather disposed to regard inventors as visionaries, full of theories of what is possible rather than of well-defined plans of what is practicable and useful.

    Boulton, however, amongst his many other gifts possessed an admirable knowledge of character.  His judgment of men was almost unerring.  In Watt he had recognised at his first visit to Soho, not only a man of original inventive genius, but a plodding, earnest, intent, and withal an exceedingly modest man; not given to puff, but on the contrary rather disposed to underrate the merit of his inventions.  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 a genius for poetry, for art, or for war.  He possessed a marvellous power of organisation.  With a keen eye for details he combined a comprehensive grasp of intellect.  While his senses were so acute, that while sitting in his office at Soho, he could detect the slightest stoppage or derangement in the machinery of that vast establishment, and would send his messenger 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.

    Boulton had already won his way to the very front rank in his calling, honestly and honourably; and he was proud of it.  He had created many new branches of industry, which gave regular employment to hundreds of families.  He had erected and organised a manufactory which was looked upon as one of the most complete of its kind in England, and was resorted to by visitors from all parts of the world.  But Boulton was more than a man of business: he was a man of culture, and the friend of cultivated 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 afterwards joined the Soho circle,—not the least distinguished of whom were Joseph Priestley and James Watt. [p.169]

    Boulton could not have been very sanguine as to the success of Watt's engine.  There were a thousand difficulties in the way of getting it introduced to general use.  The principal one was the difficulty of finding workmen capable of making it.  Watt had been constantly worried by "villanous bad workmen," who failed to make any model that would go.  It mattered not that the principle of the engine was right; if its construction was beyond the skill of ordinary handicraftsmen, the invention was practically worthless.  The great Smeaton was of this opinion. When he saw the first model working at Soho, he admitted the excellence of the contrivance, but predicted its failure, on the ground that it was too complicated, and that workmen were not to be found capable of manufacturing it on any large scale for general uses.

    Watt himself felt that, if the engine was ever to have a fair chance, it was now; and that if Boulton, with his staff of skilled workmen at command, could not make it go, the scheme must be abandoned henceforward as impracticable.  Boulton must, however, have seen the elements of success in the invention, otherwise he would not have taken up with it.  He knew the difficulties Watt had encountered in designing it, and he could well appreciate the skill with which he had overcome them; for Boulton himself, as we have seen, had for some time been occupied with the study of the subject.  But the views of Boulton on entering into his new branch of business cannot be better expressed than in his own words, as stated in a letter written by him to Watt in 1769, when then invited to join the Roebuck partnership:—

    "The plan proposed to me," [p.170] said he, "is so very different from that which I had conceived at the time I talked with you upon the subject, that I cannot think it a proper one for me to meddle with, as I do not intend turning engineer.  I was excited by two motives to offer you my assistance—which were, love of you, and love of a money-getting ingenious project.  I presumed that your engine would require money, very accurate workmanship, and extensive correspondence, to make it turn out to the best advantage; and that the best means of keeping up our reputation and doing the invention justice would be to keep the executive part out of the hands of the multitude of empirical engineers, who, from ignorance, want of experience, and want of necessary convenience, would be very liable to produce bad and inaccurate workmanship; all which deficiencies would affect the reputation of the invention.  To remedy which, and to produce the most profit, my idea was to settle a manufactory near my own, by the side of our canal, where I would erect all the conveniences necessary for the completion of engines, and from which manufactory we would serve the world with engines of all sizes.  By these means and your assistance we could engage and instruct some excellent workmen, who (with more excellent tools than would be worth any man's while to procure for one single engine) could execute the invention 20 per cent. cheaper than it would be otherwise executed, and with as great a difference of accuracy as there is between the blacksmith and the mathematical instrument maker."

    He went on to state that he was willing to enter upon the speculation with these views, considering it well worth his while "to make engines for all the world," though it would not be worth his while "to make for three counties only"; besides, he declared himself averse to embark in any trade that he had not the inspection of himself.  He concluded by saying, "Although there seem to be some obstructions to our partnership in the engine trade, yet I live in hopes that you or I may hit upon some scheme or other that may associate us in this part of the world, which would render it still more agreeable to me than it is, by the acquisition of such a neighbour." [p.171]

    Five years had passed since this letter was written, during which the engine had made no way in the world.  The partnership of Roebuck and Watt had yielded nothing but vexation and debt; until at last, fortunately for Watt—though at the time he regarded it as a terrible calamity—Roebuck broke down, and the obstruction was removed which prevented Watt and Boulton from coming together.  The latter at once reverted to the plan of action which he had with so much sagacity laid down in 1769; and he invited Watt to take up his abode at Soho until the necessary preliminary arrangements could be made.  He thought it desirable, in the first place, to erect the engine, of which the several parts had been sent to Soho from Kinneil, in order, if possible, to exhibit a specimen of the machine in actual work.  Boulton undertook to defray all the necessary expenses, and to find competent workmen to carry out the instructions of Watt, whom Boulton was also to maintain until the engine business had become productive. [p.172]

    The materials brought from Kinneil were accordingly put together with as little delay as possible and, thanks to the greater skill of the workmen who assisted in its erection, the engine, when finished, worked in a more satisfactory manner than it had ever done before.  In November, 1774, Watt wrote to Dr. Roebuck, informing him of the success of his trials; on which the Doctor expressed his surprise that the engine should have worked at all, "considering the slightness of the materials and its long exposure to the injuries of the weather."  Watt also wrote to his father at Greenock.  "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; and I expect that the invention will be very beneficial to me."  Such was Watt's modest announcement of the successful working of the engine on which such great results depended.

    Much, however, remained to be done before either Watt or Boulton could reap any benefit from the invention.  Six years out of the fourteen for which the patent was originally taken had already expired; and all that had been accomplished was the erection of this experimental engine at Soho.  What further period might elapse before capitalists could be brought to recognise the practical uses of the invention could only be guessed at; but the probability was that the patent right would expire long before a demand arose for the engines which should remunerate Boulton and Watt for their investment of time, labour, and capital.  And the patent once expired, the world at large would be free to make the engines, though Watt himself had not recovered a single farthing towards recouping him for the long years of experiment, study, and ingenuity which he had bestowed in bringing his invention to perfection.  These considerations made Boulton hesitate before launching out the money necessary to provide the tools, machinery, and buildings, for carrying on the intended manufacture on a large scale and in the best style.

    When it became known that Boulton had taken an interest in a new engine for pumping water, he had many inquiries about it from the mining districts.  The need of a more effective engine than any then in use was every year becoming more urgent.  The powers of Newcomen's engine had been tried to the utmost.  So long as the surface-lodes in Cornwall were worked, its power was sufficient to clear the mines of water; but as they were carried deeper, it was found totally inadequate for the work, and many mines were consequently becoming gradually drowned out and abandoned.  The excessive consumption of coals by the Newcomen engines was another serious objection to their use, especially in districts such as Cornwall, where coal was very dear.

    When Small was urging Watt to come to Birmingham and make engines, he wrote: "A friend of Boulton's, in Cornwall, sent us word a few days ago that four or five copper-mines are just going to be abandoned because of the high price of coals, and begs us to apply to them instantly.  The York Buildings Company delay rebuilding their engine, with great inconvenience to themselves, waiting for yours.  Yesterday application was made to me by a Mining Company in Derbyshire to know when you are to be in England about the engines, because they must quit their mine if you cannot relieve them."


    The necessity for an improved pumping power had set many inventors to work besides Watt, and some of the less scrupulous of them were already trying to adopt his principle in such a way as to evade his patent.  Moore, the London linen-draper, and Hatley, one of Watt's Carron workmen, had brought out and were pushing engines similar to Watt's; the latter having stolen and sold for a considerable sum the working drawings of the Kinneil engine.

    From these signs Boulton saw that, in the event of the engine proving successful, he and his partner would have to defend the invention against a host of pirates; and he became persuaded that he would not be justified in risking his capital in the establishment of a steam-engine manufactory unless a considerable extension of the patent-right could be secured.  To ascertain whether this was practicable, Watt proceeded to London in the beginning of 1775, to confer with his patent agent and take the opinion of counsel on the subject.  Mr. Wedderburn, who was advised with, recommended that the existing patent should be surrendered, and in that case he did not doubt that a new one would be granted.

    While in London, Watt looked out for possible orders for his engine: "I have," he wrote Boulton, "a prospect of two orders for fire-engines here, one to water Piccadilly, and the other to serve the south end of Blackfriars Bridge with water.  I have taken advice of several people whom I could trust about the patent.  They all agree that an Act would be much better and cheaper, a patent being now £130, the Act, if obtainable, £110.  The present patent has eight years still to run, bearing date January, 1769.  I understand there will be an almost unlimited sale for wheel-engines to the West Indies, at the rate of £100 for each horse's power." [p.176]

    Watt also occupied some of his time in London in superintending the adjustment of weights manufactured by Boulton and Fothergill, then sold in considerable quantities through their London agent.  That he continued to take an interest in his old business of mathematical instrument making is apparent from the visits which he made to several well-known shops.  One of the articles which he examined with most interest was Short's Gregorian telescope.  At other times, by Boulton's request, he went to see the few steam-engines then at work in London and the neighbourhood, and make enquiries as to their performances.  With that object he examined the engines at the New River, Hungerford, and Chelsea.  At the latter place, he said, "it was impossible to try the quantity of injection, and the fellow told me lies about the height of the column of water."

    Watt soon grew tired of London, "running from street to street all day about gilding," inquiring after metal-rollers, silver-platers, and button-makers.  He did his best, however, to execute the commissions which Boulton from time to time sent him; and when these were executed he returned to Birmingham to confer with his friends as to the steps to be taken with respect to the patent.  The result of his conferences with Boulton and Small was, that it was determined to take steps to apply for an Act for its extension in the ensuing session of Parliament.

    Watt went up to London a second time for the purpose of having the Bill drawn.  He had scarcely arrived there when the sad intelligence reached him of the death of Dr. Small.  He had long been ailing, yet the event was a shock alike to himself and Boulton.  The latter wrote to Watt in the bitterness of his grief, "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 replied, reminding him of the sentiments of their departed friend, as to the impropriety of indulging in unavailing sorrow, the best refuge from which was the more sedulous performance of duty.  "Come, my dear sir," said he, "and immerse yourself in this sea of business as soon as possible.  Pay a proper respect to your friend by obeying his precepts.  I wait for you with impatience, and assure yourself no endeavour of mine shall be wanting to render life agreeable to you."

    It had been intended to include Small in the steam-engine partnership on the renewal of the patent.  He had been consulted in all the stages of the proceedings, and one of the last things he did was to draw up Watt's petition for the Bill.  No settled arrangement had yet been made—not even between Boulton and Watt.  Everything depended upon the success of the application for the extension of the patent.

    Meanwhile, through the recommendation of his old friend Dr. Robison, then in Russia officiating as Mathematical Professor at the Government Naval School at Cronstadt, Watt was offered an appointment under the Russian Government, at a salary of about £1,000 a year.  He was thus presented with a means of escape from his dependence upon Boulton, and for the first time in his life he had the prospect of an income that, to him, would have been affluence.  But he entertained strong objections to settling in Russia: he objected to its climate, its comparative barbarism, and, notwithstanding the society of his friend Robison, to the limited social resources of St. Petersburg.  Besides, Boulton's favours were so gracefully conferred, that Watt did not feel his dependence on him; for he made the recipient of his favours feel as if the obligation were entirely on the side of the giver.  "Your going to Russia staggers me," he wrote to Watt; "the precariousness of your health, the dangers of so long a journey or voyage, and my own deprivation of consolation, render me a little uncomfortable; but I wish to assist and advise you for the best, without regard to self."  The result was, that Watt determined to wait the issue of the application for the extension of his patent.

    The Bill was introduced to Parliament on the 28th of February, 1775, and it was obvious from the first that it would have considerable opposition to encounter.  The mining interest had looked forward to Watt's invention as a means of helping them out of their difficulties and giving a new value to their property by clearing the drowned mines of water.  They therefore desired to have the free use of the engine at the earliest possible period; and when it was proposed to extend the patent by Act of Parliament, they set up with one accord the cry of "No monopoly."  Up to the present time, as we have seen, the invention had been productive to Watt of nothing but loss, labour, anxiety, and headaches; and it was only just that a reasonable period should be allowed, to enable him to derive some advantage from the results of his long-continued application and ingenuity.  But the mining interest took a different view of the matter.  They did not see the necessity of recognising the rights of the inventor beyond the term of his existing patent, and they held that the public interests would suffer if the proposed "monopoly" were granted.  Nor were they without supporters in Parliament, for among the most strenuous opponents of the Bill we find the name of Edmund Burke,—influenced, it is supposed, by the mining interest in the neighbourhood of Bristol, which city he then represented.

    There is no doubt that the public would have benefited by Watt's invention being made free to all who wished to use it.  But it was not merely for the public that Watt had been working at his engine for fifteen long years.  He was a man of very small means, and had been buoyed up and stimulated to renewed exertion, by the hope of some ultimate reward, in the event of its success.  If labour and ingenuity could give a man a title to property in his invention, Watt's claim was clear.

    The condensing-engine had been the product of his own skill, contrivance, and brain-work.  But there has always been a difficulty in getting the claims of mere brain-work recognised.  Had he expended his labour in building a house instead of in contriving a machine, his right of property would at once have been acknowledged.  As it was, he had to contend for justice, and persuade the legislature of the reasonableness of extending his patent.  In the "Case" which he drew up for distribution amongst the members of the Lower House, on the motion being carried for the recommittal of the Bill, he set forth that having, after great labour and expense extending over many year's, succeeded in completing working engines of each of the two kinds he had invented, he found that they could not be carried into profitable execution without the further expenditure of large sums of money in erecting mills, and purchasing the various materials and utensils necessary for making them; and from the reluctance with which the public generally adopt new inventions, he was afraid that the whole term granted by his patent would expire before the engines should have come into general use and any portion of his expenses be repaid:—

    "The inventor of these new engines," said he, "is sorry that gentlemen of knowledge, and avowed admirers of his invention, should oppose the Bill by putting it in the light of a monopoly.  He never had any intention of circumscribing or claiming the inventions of others; and the Bill is now drawn up in such a manner as sufficiently guards those rights, and must oblige him to prove his own right to every part of his invention which may at any time be disputed.  If the invention be valuable, it has been made so by his industry, and at his expense; he has struggled with bad health and many other inconveniences to bring it to perfection, and all he wishes is to be secured in the profits which he may reasonably expect from it—profits which he cannot obtain without an exertion of his abilities to bring it into practice, by which the public must be the greatest gainers, and which are limited by the performance of the common engines; for he cannot expect that any person will make use of his contrivance unless he can prove to them that savings will take place, and that his demand for the privilege of using the invention will amount only to a reasonable part of them.  No man will lay aside a known engine, and stop his work to erect one of a new contrivance, unless he is certain to be a very great gainer by the exchange; and if any contrivance shall so far excel others as to enforce the use of it, it is reasonable that the author of such a contrivance should be rewarded."

    These weighty arguments could not fail to produce an impression on the minds of all reasonable men, and the result was, that Parliament passed an Act extending Watt's patent right for the further term of twenty-four years.  Watt wrote to Boulton on the 27th of May,—"I hope to be clear to come away by Wednesday or Thursday.  I am heartily sick of this town, and fort ennuyé since you left it.  Dr. Roebuck is likely to get an order, out of Smeaton's hands, for an engine in Yorkshire that, according to Smeaton's calculation, will burn £1,200 per annum in coals.  But this has had one bad effect.  It has made the Doctor repent of his bargain, and wish again to be upon the 1-10th [profits]; but we must see to keep him right if possible, so don't vex yourself about it."  Dr. Roebuck had been finally settled with before the passing of the Act.  It had been arranged that Boulton should pay him £1,000 out of the first profits arising from his share in the engine, making about £2,200 in all paid by Boulton to Roebuck for his two-thirds of his patent. [p.181]

    Watt returned to Birmingham to set about the making of the engines for which orders had already been received.  Boulton had been busily occupied during his absence in experimenting on the Soho engine.  A new 18-inch cylinder had been cast for it at Bersham by John Wilkinson, the great iron-founder, who had contrived a machine for boring it with accuracy.  This cylinder was substituted for the tin one brought from Kinneil; and other improvements having been introduced, the engine was again set to work with very satisfactory results.  Watt found his partner in good spirits; not less elated by the performances of the model than by the pasting of the Act; and arrangements were at once set on foot for carrying on the manufacture of engines upon an extensive scale.  Applications for terms, followed by orders, shortly came in from the mining districts; and, before long, the works at Soho were resounding with the clang of hammers and machinery, employed in manufacturing steam-engines for all parts of the civilised world.




WATT now arranged to take up his residence in Birmingham until the issue of the steam-engine enterprise could be ascertained, and he went down to Glasgow to bring up his two children, whom he had left in charge of their relatives.  Boulton had taken a house on Harper's Hill, which was in readiness for the reception of the family on their arrival about the end of August, 1775.  Regent's-place, Harper's Hill, was then the nearest house to Soho on that side of Birmingham.  It was a double house, substantially built in brick, with stone facings, standing on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by fields and gardens.  St. Paul's, the nearest church, was not built until four years after Watt took up his abode there.  But the house at Harper's Hill is in the country no longer: it is now surrounded in all directions by dense masses of buildings, and is itself inhabited by working people.

    The first engine made at Soho was one ordered by John Wilkinson to blow the bellows of his ironworks at Broseley.  Great interest was, of course, felt in the success of this engine.  Watt took great pains with the drawings; the workmen did their best to execute the several parts accurately, for they understood that numerous orders would depend upon whether it worked satisfactorily or not.  Wilkinson's iron-manufacturing neighbours, who were contemplating the erection of Newcomen engines, suspended their operations until they had an opportunity of seeing what Boulton and Watt's engine could do; and all looked forward to its completion with the most eager interest.

    When the materials were all ready at Soho, they were packed up and sent on to Broseley.  Watt accompanied them, to superintend their erection.  He had as yet no assistant to whom he could entrust such work,—on the results of which so much depended.  The engine was erected and ready for use about the beginning of 1776.  As it approached completion, Watt became increasingly anxious to make a trial of its powers.  But Boulton wrote to him not to hurry—not to let the engine make a stroke until every possible hindrance to its successful action had been removed; "and then," said he, "in the name of God, fall to and do your best."  The result of the extreme care taken with the construction and erection of the engine was entirely satisfactory.  It worked to the admiration of all who saw it, and the fame of Boulton and Watt became great in the midland counties.

    While Watt was thus occupied, Boulton was pushing on the new buildings at Soho.  He kept his partner fully advised of all that was going on.  "The new forging-shop," he wrote, "looks very formidable: the roof is nearly put on, and the hearths are both built."  Tools and machinery were being prepared, and all looked hopeful for the future.  Orders were coming in for engines.  One in hand for Bloomfield Colliery was well advanced.  Many-inquiries had come from Cornwall.  Mr. Papps, of Truro, was anxious to introduce the engine in that county.  Out of forty engines there, only eighteen were in work; so that there was a fine field for future operations.  "Pray tell Mr. Wilkinson," Boulton added, "to get a dozen cylinders cast and bored, from 12 to 50 inches diameter, and as many condensers of suitable sizes.  The latter must be sent here, as we will keep them ready fitted up, and then an engine can be turned out of hand in two or three weeks.  I have fixed my mind upon making from twelve to fifteen reciprocating and fifty rotative engines per annum.  I assure you that of all the toys and trinkets which we manufacture at Soho, none shall take the place of fire-engines in respect of my attention." [p.185]

    Boulton was not, however, exclusively engrossed by engine affairs.  Among other things he informed Watt that he had put his little boy Jamie to a good school, and that he was very much occupied, as usual, in entertaining visitors.  "The Empress of Russia," he wrote, "is now at my house, and a charming woman she is."  The Empress afterwards sent Boulton her portrait, and it constituted one of the ornaments of Soho.  Amidst his various occupations he contrived to find leisure for experiments on minerals, having received from a correspondent in Wales a large assortment of iron-ores to assay.  He was also trying experiments on the model engine, the results of which were duly communicated to his partner. [p.186]

    On Watt's return to Soho, Boulton proceeded to London on financial affairs, as well as to look after engine orders.  He there found reports in circulation among the engineering class, that the new engine had proved a failure.  The Society of Engineers in Holborn, of which Smeaton was the great luminary, had settled it that neither the tools nor the workmen existed that could manufacture so complex a machine with sufficient precision; and it was asserted that all the ingenuity and skill of Soho had been unable to conquer the defects of the piston.  "So said Holmes, the clockmaker," wrote Boulton,—Holmes being the intimate friend of Smeaton; "but no language will be sufficiently persuasive on that head except the good performance of the engines themselves." [p.187]  Boulton, therefore, urged the completion of the engine then in hand for Cooke and Company's distillery at Stratford-le-Bow, near London.  "Wilby," [the managing partner,] said he, "seems very impatient, and so am I, both for the sake of reputation as well as to begin to turn the tide of money,"—the current of which had as yet been all outwards.  Boulton went to see the York Buildings engine, which had been reconstructed by Smeaton, and was then reckoned one of the best on the Newcomen plan.  The old man who tended it lauded the engine to the skies, and notwithstanding Boulton's description of the new engines at work in Staffordshire, he would not believe that any engine in the world could excel his own.

    In the course of the summer Watt again visited Glasgow,—this time for the purpose of bringing back a wife.  The lady he proposed to marry was Miss Anne Macgregor, daughter of a respectable dyer.  The young lady's consent was obtained, as well as her father's, to the proposed union; but the latter, before making any settlement on his daughter, intimated to Watt that he desired to see the partnership agreement between him and Boulton.

    Although the terms of partnership had been generally arranged, they had not yet been put into legal form, and Watt asked that this should be done without delay for the satisfaction of the cautious old gentleman. [p.188]  Boulton at once agreed to the draft agreement proposed by Watt himself; almost adopting his own words.

    While in Scotland Watt obtained orders for several engines; amongst others, he undertook to supply one for the Toryburn Colliery, in Fife, on the terms of receiving one-third of the savings effected by it compared with the engine then at work, with such further sum as might be judged fair.  Another was ordered by Sir Archibald Hope for his colliery near Edinburgh, on similar terms.  At the same time, Watt proceeded with the collection of his old outstanding debts, though these did not amount to much.  "I believe," he wrote to Boulton, "I shall have no occasion to draw on you for any money, having got in some of my old scraps, which will serve, or nearly serve, my occasions here."

    Boulton was now very busy at home, and unable to go down to Glasgow to his partner's marriage.  He was full of work, full of orders, full of Soho.  He wrote to Watt: "Although I have added to the list of my bad habits by joking upon matrimony, yet my disposition and my judgment would lead me to marry again were I in your case.  I know you will be happier as a married man than as a single one, and therefore it is wisdom in you to wed; and if that could not be done without my coming to Scotland, I certainly would come if it were as far again; but I am so beset with difficulties, that nothing less than the absolute loss of your life, or wife—which is virtually the same thing—could bring me."

    He further explained that a good deal of extra work had fallen upon him, through the absence of some of his most important assistants.  Mr. Matthews, his London financial agent, like Watt, was about to be married, and would be absent abroad on a wedding trip, in which he was to be accompanied by Fothergill, Boulton's partner in the toy and button trade.  Mr. Scale, the manager, was also absent; added to which the button orders were in arrear some 16,000 gross; so that, said Boulton, "I have more real difficulties to grapple with than I hope ever to have in any other year in my life."

    There were also constant visitors arriving at Soho: among others the Duke of Buccleuch, who had called to see the works and inquire after Mr. Watt; and Mr. Moor, of the Society of Engineers in the Adelphi, who had come to see with his own eyes whether the reports in circulation against the new engine were true or false.  The perfecting of the details of the engine also required constant attention.  "Our copper bottom," said Boulton, "hath plagued us very much by steam leaks, and therefore I have had one cast (with its conducting pipe) all in one piece; since which the engine doth not take more than 10 feet of steam, and I hope to reduce that quantity, as we have just received the new piston, which shall be put in and be at work tomorrow.  Our Soho engine never was in such good order as at present.  Bloomfield and Willey [engines] are both well, and I doubt not that Bow engine will be better than any of 'em."

    Boulton was almost as full of speculation as Watt himself as to the means of improving the engine.  "I did not sleep last night," he wrote, "my mind being absorbed by steam."  One of his speculations was as to the means of increasing the heating surface, and with that object he proposed to apply the fire "in copper spheres within the water."  His mind was also running on economising power by working steam expansively, "being clear that the principle is sound."

    Later, he wrote to Watt that he had an application from a distiller at Bristol for an engine to raise 15,000 gallons of ale per hour 15 feet high; another for a coal mine in Wales, and two others for London distilleries.  To add to his anxieties, one Humphry Gainsborough, a dissenting minister at Henley-on-Thames, had instituted proceedings against Watt for an alleged piracy of his invention!  On this Boulton wrote to his partner,—"I have just received a summons to attend the Solicitor-General next week in opposition to Gainsborough, otherwise the solicitor will make his report.  This is a disagreeable circumstance, particularly at this season, when you are absent.  Joseph [Harrison] is in London, and idleness is in our engine-shop."  There was therefore every reason why Watt should make haste to get married, and return to Soho as speedily as possible.  On the 28th July, 1776, Watt wrote to apologize for his long absence, and to say that the event was to come off on the following Monday, after which he would set out immediately for Liverpool, where he proposed to meet his partner.  He also intimated that he had got another order for an engine at Leadhills. [p.191]  Arrived at Liverpool, a letter from Boulton met him, saying he had been under the necessity of proceeding to London.

    "Gainsborough," said he, "hath appointed to meet me at Holt's, his attorney, on Monday, when I shall say little besides learning his principles and invention.  If we had a hundred wheels [wheel-engines] ready made and a hundred small engines, like Bow engine, and twenty large ones executed, we could readily dispose of them.  Therefore let us make hay while the sun shines, and gather our barns full, before the dark cloud of age lowers upon us, and before any more Tubal Cains, Watts, Dr. Faustuses, or Gainsboroughs, arise with serpents like Moses's to devour all others. . . . As to your absence, say nothing about it.  I will forgive it this time, provided you promise me never to marry again." [p.192]

    Watt hastened back to Birmingham, and, after settling his wife in her new home, proceeded with the execution of the orders for engines which had come in during his two months' absence.  Mr. Wilby was impatient for the delivery of the Bow engine, and as soon as it was ready, which was early in September, the materials were forwarded to London with Joseph Harrison, to be fitted and set to work.  Besides careful verbal instructions, Watt supplied Joseph with full particulars in writing of the measures he was to adopt in putting the engine together.  Not a point in detail was neglected, and if any difficulty arose, Joseph was directed at once to communicate with him by letter.  When the engine was set to work, it was found that the steam could not be kept up.  Amendments were made in it by packing the piston and stopping the leaks.  Still its performances did not come up to Watt's expectations; and to see that his suggestions were properly carried out, Watt himself went up to town in November, and had the machine put in complete working trim.

    His partner, however, could not spare him long, as other orders were coming in.  "We have a positive order," wrote Boulton, "for an engine for Tingtang mine, and, from what I heard this day from Mr. Glover, we may soon expect other orders from Cornwall.  Our plot begins to thicken apace, and if Mr. Wilkinson don't bustle a little, as well as ourselves, we shall not gather our harvest before sunset.". . . . "I hope to hear," he added, "that Joseph hath made a finish, for he is much wanted here. . . . I perceive we shall be hard pushed in engine-work; but I have no fears of being distanced when once the exact course or best track is determined on."

    A letter reached Soho from the Shadwell Waterworks Company relative to a pumping-engine, and Boulton asked Watt, while in town, to wait upon them on the subject; but he cautioned Watt that he never knew a Committee but, in its corporate capacity, was both rogue and fool, and that the Shadwell Committee were rich rogues."  Watt, by his own account, treated them very cavalierly.  "Yesterday," said he, "I went again to Shadwell to meet the deputies of the Committee, and to examine their engines when going.  We came to no terms further than what we wrote them before, which I confirmed, and offered moreover to keep the engine in order for one year.  They modestly insisted that we should do so for the whole twenty-five years, which I firmly refused.  They seemed to doubt the reality of the performances of the Bow engine; so I told them we did not solicit their orders and would wait patiently until they were convinced,—moreover, that while they had any doubts remaining, we would not undertake their business on any terms.  I should not have been so sharp with them had they not begun with bullying me, selon la mode de Londres.  But the course I took was not without its effect, for in proportion as they found I despised their job, they grew more civil.  After parting with these heroes I went down to Stratford, where I found that the engine had gone very well.  I caused it to be kept going all the afternoon, and this morning I new-heat the piston and kept it going till dinner time at about fifteen strokes per minute, with a steam of one inch or at most two inches strong, and the longer it went the better it grew. . . . I propose that Joseph should not leave it for a few days, until both his health and that of the engine be confirmed.  A relapse of the engine would ruin our reputation here, and indeed elsewhere." [p.194]

    The Bow engine had, however, a serious relapse in the following spring, and it happened in this way:—Mr. Smeaton, the engineer, having heard of its success, which he doubted, requested Hadley, Boulton's agent, to go down with him to Stratford-le-Bow to witness its performances.  He carefully examined the engine, and watched it while at work, and the conclusion he arrived at was, that it was a pretty engine, but much too complex for practical uses.  On leaving the place Smeaton gave the engineman some money to drink, and he drank so much that next day he let the engine run quite wild, and it was thrown completely out of order.  Mr. Wilby, the manager, was very wroth at the circumstance.  He discharged the engineman and called upon Hadley to replace the valves, which had been broken, and to make good the other damage that had been done to the engine.  When the repairs were made, everything went as satisfactorily as before.

    Watt had many annoyances of this sort to encounter, and one of his greatest difficulties was the incapacity and unsteadiness of his workmen.  Although the original Soho men were among the best of their kind, the increasing business of the firm necessarily led to the introduction of a large number of new hands, who represented merely the average workmen of the day.  They were for the most part poor mechanics, very inexpert at working in metal, and very greatly given to drink. [p.195]

    In organizing the works at Soho, Boulton and Watt found it necessary to carry division of labour to the farthest practicable point.  There were no slide-lathes, planing-machines, or boring-tools, such as now render mechanical accuracy of construction almost a matter of certainty.  Everything depended upon the individual mechanic's accuracy of hand and eye; and yet mechanics generally were then much less skilled than they are now.  The way in which Boulton and Watt contrived partially to get over the difficulty was, to confine their workmen to special classes of work, and make them as expert in them as possible.  By continued practice in handling the same tools and fabricating the same articles, they thus acquired great individual proficiency.  "Without our tools and our workmen," said Watt, "very little could be done."

    But when the men got well trained, the difficulty was in keeping them.  Foreign tempters were constantly trying to pick up Boulton and Watt's men, and induce them by offers of larger wages to take service abroad.  The two fitters sent up to London to erect the Bow engine were strongly pressed to go out to Russia. [p.196]  There were also French agents in England at the same time, who tried to induce certain of Boulton and Watt's men to go over to Paris and communicate the secret of making the new engines to M. Perrier, who had undertaken to pump water from the Seine for the supply of Paris.  The German States also sent over emissaries with a like object, Baron Stein having been specially commissioned by his Government to master the secret of Watt's engine to obtain working plans of it and bring away workmen capable of making it,—the first step taken being to obtain access to the engine-rooms by bribing the workmen.

    Besides the difficulties Boulton and Watt had to encounter in training and disciplining their own workmen, they had also to deal with the want of skill on the part of those to whom the working of their engines was entrusted, after they had been delivered and fixed complete.  They occasionally supplied trustworthy men of their own; but they could not educate mechanics fast enough, and needed all the best men for their own work.  They were therefore compelled to rely on the average mechanics of the day, the greater number of whom were comparatively unskilled and knew nothing of the steam-engine.  Hence such mishaps as those which befell the Bow engine, through the engine-man getting drunk and reckless, and leaving the engine to itself.  To provide for this contingency Watt endeavoured to simplify the engine as much as possible, so as to bring its working and repair within the capacity of any average workman.

    At a very early period, while experimenting at Kinneil, he had formed the idea of working steam expansively, and altered his model from time to time with that object.  Boulton had taken up and continued the experiments at Soho, believing the principle to be sound, and that great economy would attend its adoption.  The early engines were accordingly made so that the steam might be cut off before the piston had made its full stroke, and expand within the cylinder, the heat outside it being maintained by the expedient of the steam-case.  But it was shortly found that this method of working was beyond the capacity of the average engineman of that day, and it was consequently given up for a time.

    "We used to send out," said Watt to Robert Hart, "a cylinder of double the size wanted, and cut off the steam at half-stroke.  This was a great saving of steam so long as the valves remained as at first; but when our men left her to the charge of the person who was to keep her, he began to make or try to make improvements, often by giving more steam.  The engine did more work while the steam lasted, but the boiler could not keep up the demand.  Then complaints came of want of steam, and we had to send a man down to see what was wrong.  This was so expensive that we resolved to give up the expansion of the steam until we could get men that could work it, as a few tons of coal per year was less expensive than having the work stopped.  In some of the mines a few hours' stoppage was a serious matter, as it would cost the proprietor as much as £70 per hour." [p.198]

    The principle was not, however, abandoned.  It was of great value and importance in an economical point of view, and was again taken up by Watt and embodied in a more complete form in a subsequent invention.  Since his time, indeed, expansive working has been carried to a much farther extent than he probably ever dreamt of, and has more than realized the beneficial results which his sagacious insight so early anticipated.


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